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Benkler and Artistic Worthlessness

I’ve been reading the fascinating analyis of the digital economy by Yochai Benkler. I’m reading it in preparation for a longish essay I’ve writing for teleread about literary collaboration in a digital age. There are lots of insights here and political analysis, but one thing curiously missing: how do artistically-minded individuals get food on the table and pay their rent? He has sidestepped the microeconomic questions in favor of describing why the peer production model is efficient on a macroeconomic level. All fine and dandy, but does he imply that artistic endeavors will never be monetized?

Finally, the way networks establish value often fails when considering artistic output. Often it takes decades for the worth (or worthlessness) of an artwork to be apparent. He doesn’t really offer an explanation for this phenomenon, except to extol the openness of the folk art model. Yet artists are groomed to disregard economic signals and social expectations for the sake of preserving their artistic vision. Niche-based Long Tail artists may flout conventions in their effort to say what only they can say.

Still it’s a fascinating analysis (and I expect to talk about it substantially in my essay). Here’s a nice Internet seminar on crookedtimber about the book. In another delightful coincidence, the deadline for submitting a paper to an MIT conference on digital collaboration is Jan 5. I may actually submit one.

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