Monday, November 23, 2015

More on the Apocalypse that Was or Wasn't

A couple of months ago, I posted at the Clyde Fitch Report in response to Steven Johnson's New York Times Magazine article The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn't and a trail of responses taking exception to the data he used and the conclusions he drew.

At the time, I commented that while the data seemed to show that the arts have not lost ground and in many cases have continued to grow in the recent past, anecdotally and despite what Johnson offered, individual artists of all stripes report that it is much more difficult to make a living now than in the past. Some two weeks ago, the National Endowment for the Arts research office posted the results of analysis on other data in an effort to help answer the questions Johnson posed. Their analysis concluded that:

  • creative industries such as film, sound recording, and the performing arts have fared well in recent years, but publishing, as a share of U.S. GDP, has remained flat;

  • the long-term growth in the number of musicians, measured as a percentage of all U.S. workers, has been flat;

  • musicians' earnings declined and remain less than the earnings of U.S. workers as a whole, although their real earnings, adjusted for inflation, have grown; and

  • year-over-year investment in new musical compositions has been in long-term decline.
While none of this contradicts Johnson's original conclusions, it points again to the difficulty of projecting an individual artist's situation from aggregated and average statistics.

What seems most salient here is that while musicians make up a consistent share of the US workforce, there is a long-term decline in the investment in the creation of new work. This would seem to indicate, for example, that more revenue is being generated from existing music than new work and/or that a smaller percentage of the musician's working are generating an increased amount of income, leaving the rest of the field to struggle with a smaller piece of the pie.

While not conclusive in any way, this new data and its analysis gives us a bit more detail on the evolving environment in which artists try to make a living.

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