The founder of Techdirt, Michael Masnick, has released a provocative new report (pdf) called The Sky is Rising!, in which he argues that the degree to which the internet is harming the creative industries has been grossly overstated.
The most striking figure is that between 2000 and 2008, the proportion of American household expenditure going on entertainment didn't just rise, but rose by 15 per cent, from 4.9 per cent of the total to 5.62 per cent. This is over the period of YouTube, Kazaa, Bittorrent, iTunes, Netflix, Kindle, the Pirate Bay – the list of things which didn't kill the creative arts is exactly as long as the list of things which we were told would.
Employment in the sector rose too, by 20 per cent. And the size of the entertainment industry (which is, admittedly, bouyed up by a generally exuberant economy over that period) went from $449bn to $745bn in the 12 years 1998 to 2010.
This is Masnick's key point: that when you look at the industry as a whole, it is booming. It's only when you look at the old titans, especially those which were too slow to adapt, that you see the narrative which has been accepted as true for the whole sector. The report concludes:
Rather than decrying the state of the entertainment industry today and seeking new laws to protect certain aspects of the industry, we should be celebrating the growth and vitality of this vibrant part of our economy -- while consumers enjoy an amazing period of creativity.
We hope that this report will help shift the debate away from a focus on a narrow set of interests who have yet to take advantage of the new opportunities, and towards a more positive recognition of the wide-open possibilities presented by new technologies to create, promote, distribute, connect and monetize.
It would be interesting to see a similar study aimed at the UK. Compared to America, we have one hugely distortive player: The BBC. Freed from the need to make short-term profits, they were able to force the "legacy" entertainment industry to go digital far earlier than it did in the US, with the result that sites like iPlayer, and 4OD are far more popular than their direct equivalent, Hulu, is across the Atlantic. At the same time, however, the BBC set a price tag that others simply couldn't compete with, and may have hindered the success of our own version of streaming-video business Netflix. Lovefilm offers the same service (and so too does Netflix UK now) but it hasn't taken off.
Below is an infographic which sums up some of the key data Masnick relies on. Click to see it larger: