The entertainment industry as a whole is shitting Dane Cook-shaped bricks. Sales in music are evaporating. It's the same with theater tickets. And print books. It doesn't take a degree in economics to know that the Internet is the dominating factor behind the loss, but what people are failing to notice is that the death of the sales is exactly what's breathing life back into the actual arts.
You're living in an era that will go down in history as the pivotal point in which the entertainment industry finally got its dick punched off and its power put back in the hands of the consumer, where it belongs. It's happening right now, after a century of them greedily sucking the life and quality out of the mediums we used to love in favor of risk-free profits wrapped up in bullshit, formulated products. But don't get comfortable just yet. Both the corporations and their advocates are fighting to the last breath, and it's easy to find yourself treading in their sewage if you're not prepared for their arguments, like ...
It's open and shut. Since the invention of Napster, people have been illegally downloading music, and the industry has never recovered. Spin it any way you want -- the solid, irrefutable fact is that the music industry has lost half of its sales, end of debate. And yes, we're talking about digital downloads, too, so don't give us that fairy tale horseshit about how declining CD sales are made up for with paid downloads. Piracy is killing the industry, and you are all fucking criminals. And also, you're fat.
But That's Actually Saving the Art Itself Because:
OK, 1) I'm not fat. And 2) If you've ever been in a department store between the months of October and the following January, you've heard the best-selling single in the history of music: Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." To date, it's sold over 50 million copies, and nothing else even comes close. Now, take a second to find the album it comes from, Merry Christmas, on the list of the best-selling albums of all time. I'll save you the trouble: It's not on there because it only sold 15 million copies.
Now keep that in mind when we do the reverse. The No. 1 selling album of all time is Michael Jackson's Thriller at 110 million copies. Show me one single from that album on the list of highest selling singles. Spoiler: Don't waste your time. Great, now I have "The Girl Is Mine" stuck in my head.
But bring back singles' availability, and presto! Instant injustice!
This is more relevant than you think. See, back in Bing's day, when records were still a thing, it was common to go out and buy a single in the form of a little record called a 45. Singles sales were huge back then, and if you wanted to be a big music star, you had to release a shitload of them in a way that caught mass appeal. If you didn't, you were a one-hit wonder, and you vanished off the map like fucking Jimmy Hoffa. That form of selling demanded quality on the artists' part, and they had damn well better be able to produce if they wanted to make any money.
In Jackson's heyday, music labels came up with a solution to that whole "People only pay for good music" problem, and the idea of selling singles was phased out. Oh, a few were available if you knew where to look, but not as a staple of the market like in the 1940s through the '70s. No, if you heard a song you liked, you bought the whole damn album, and it usually cost you between $15 and $20 -- hence people bought the album Thriller instead of the seven top 10 singles released from that collection. But there was obviously a problem with that: With the exception of a rare few classic albums (Thriller included), that one song you liked would turn out to be the only good one on the entire LP. It got to the point that you'd walk into a record store and notice that all the customers had a distinct "Don't drop the soap" look on their faces.
"Dude ... do not go into the Ramones section."
Ironically, our advances in technology have brought us back 70 years into the golden age of music marketing. Through digital downloading, we're no longer being held hostage by that type of bullshit "buy in bulk" sales tactic. And since we now buy most of our music one song at a time, the artists are once again held to a higher standard. If they want to make their $20 for an album, and we're already paying $1 per song, then all 20 of their songs had better be good. We'll gladly pay for them if they're worth buying. But now we get to cherry-pick the good stuff and tell them to pack the filler tightly back into the assholes in which they originated.
And don't think I'm just picking on music here. Books are coming around to the same means of marketing, and for the same reasons, the quality of the art is thriving. Our own Robert Brockway is living proof of that. He's selling his book Rx in a way that makes the readers more comfortable about sinking money into the purchase by releasing it in smaller sections for less money. He's confident enough about the story that he's telling fans, "Here's the first part, and it only costs you two bucks. If you like it, buy the next part. If you don't, no hard feelings. We part ways, and you've lost virtually nothing in the exchange. Also, I actually am fat."
And that's the way it should be. The days of an author getting away with charging $25 for a hardcover, based solely on his name, are coming to an end. And in switching to this new model that's fair to the consumer, pressure has never been higher for an author to put his best effort into his work. If he doesn't, he's going to find himself making a career out of selling the beginnings of books.
"It was a dark and stormy night. The end."
Keep in mind that I'm not coming from this as a fist-pumping Internet fanboy, screaming, "Take that, THE MAN!" I'm actually a part of the entertainment industry. I'm banking on getting a book deal based on the exact Internet buzz that these people are claiming kills their trade. And I'm not even remotely afraid of doing things in favor of the actual customer, because at its core, the Internet crowd rewards people who show them some semblance of respect. If you don't believe that, look up the name "Jonathan Coulton."
All we're doing is setting the price back down to where it should be. Good money for quality entertainment.
Let's say we have a goofy little movie about a plane that's full of snakes. And let's say that, hypothetically, we sunk $33 million into the production of that movie based on Internet response. Let's also say that, based on the online reaction, we actually went back and reshot some of the scenes to add in exactly what they were asking for. Would it be out of line to tell those people to go fuck themselves when the opening weekend only produced $13.8 million? And a steady 50 to 68 percent loss every weekend thereafter? Would that be considered rude?
Look, we've tried utilizing the Internet crowd. We've asked flat out, "What do you want? We'll make it." And every time, it turns out to be a complete financial disaster. An unwatchable fucking embarrassment. Ever seen Fred: the Movie? Don't answer that, we already know you didn't.
"My hand is in her ass, right now. Enjoy your superiority, douchebags."
But That's Actually Saving the Art Itself Because:
When done right, the Internet can break down that barrier between the creators and the audience, effectively removing the thick wall of suits in between. And make no mistake, those suits are the number one killers of creativity on this planet. I'll give you a prime example, and even if you're not a video game person, stick with me here. You'll understand why in a minute.
For the people who are into video games, tell me if you recognize any of these titles: Maniac Mansion? Secret of Monkey Island? Grim Fandango? All legendary games made by the same legendary designers. They have droves of fans beating down their door, begging for an old-school adventure game, the requests written on their exposed boners. But the guys simply don't have the resources for making one. Publishers wouldn't even consider the idea. But by God, the Internet would.
It turns out that we actually appreciate people who aren't douchebags.
The guys went to a site called Kickstarter and set out to raise $400,000 for production. So far, over 55,000 people have donated $1.8 million. No suits. No corporations. Just pure, unbridled freedom to make whatever they want. That is the power of the Internet, harnessed by people who understand how to fucking use it.
Or how about first-time authors selling a million books without a publisher? Consider that an extreme success story? OK, fine, how about Robert Brockway's book that I mentioned earlier? So far it's matching the sales of his last book, which was printed and promoted the old-school way (a physical book, on shelves, a whirlwind tour of the USA complete with ticker tape parades) using nothing more than the thousands of dollars he paid me to insert that link.
Seriously, if you don't buy it, you're kind of an asshole. It's two bucks, you cheapass.
Or take the example of Cracked's own David Wong, who gave away his story in its entirety for free on his own site for years before someone came knocking with a publishing deal. And now it's a freaking movie that just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. All based on Internet interest and Internet buzz, and we didn't need a $33 million budget to do it (the book was written for less than half that).
When my own book comes out, regardless of whether I choose Brockway's path of self publication or Wong's path of using a traditional publisher, the core is still the same: We're all relying on Internet word-of-mouth to generate those sales. If it works, we've done our jobs. If it doesn't, we were never deserving of a publication in the first place, and we will accept that. In both cases, the Internet crowd has the final say. And just for the record, I don't think any of you guys are fat. Unless you like that sort of thing ... in which case, buy my book when it comes out, fatass.
Just look at what they did to Charlie Sheen. The guy has one public meltdown, and the online crowd swarmed on him like fucking piranhas. They did the same thing to Michael Richards when he went on his racist tirade. Look, we're not excusing their actions by any means -- they had some weak moments and did some inexcusable things. But destroying their careers for it? Come on. How can anybody justify the TMZ.com-style obsession over every famous person's bad habits?
"LOOK AT ME, I'M A MEXICAN."
But That's Actually Saving the Art Itself Because:
Do you realize how much bullshit celebrities used to get away with before the Internet? In the late '80s, Rob Lowe taped himself fucking a 16-year-old girl, and he got off with a court settlement and some community service. Charlie Sheen himself has been arrested multiple times for everything from hardcore drug use to domestic violence, long before his famous meltdown. You know that tired old joke about "snorting cocaine off of a stripper's ass"? Charlie Sheen has actually done that. So what's the difference between then and now?
I can explain that with a simple video that most of you have already seen. It's Michael Richards' apology on Letterman, and when you're watching it, don't listen to what Richards is saying. Instead, listen to the audience:
Hear them laughing? They're not doing it because they think racism is funny -- it's not a roomful of YouTube commenters. They're doing it because the entire thing sounds like a setup to a really bizarre joke. You have to remember that the incident he's apologizing for had just made the news that day. Most of the people in that audience had no idea how severe his actions really were, or that there was even a story at all. To them, it sounded like Letterman and Seinfeld were setting up a skit where "Kramer" got heckled and later apologized for getting angry. It even made Dave's monologue from earlier sound like a setup for this very scene.
If this had happened before the Internet, the news would have gone nuts with reports for about a week. But producers know that harping on a story gets stagnant really fast, so by the end of the week, they would have moved on to something else and the whole thing would have been tucked away. But if the Internet is known for anything, it's for not letting shit die. In most cases, this trait makes you want to beat them all until science categorizes them as liquid, but in a situation like this, the result actually helps humanity.
Never thought I'd say this, but ... *sigh* good job, Internet.
There is such an astronomical difference between reading about the fiasco in print versus seeing the actual incident take place. And once the Internet saw that original video, we demanded payment in the form of his career. And yes, the industry is better for it.
Society has a way of putting people's egos in check. And for a very long time, stars were handed free passes to do what they wanted, when they wanted. Now we as an audience are finally able to give them the same relentless mocking the rest of us would get for doing shameful bullshit. Is that being judgmental on our parts? You're goddamn right it is, and we're not apologizing for it. We can't force the courts to hold these people to the same rules that they would apply to us (go on a 36-hour cocaine bender and see how your local judge reacts -- actually, don't do that, it ends badly), but we can damn well make sure that they don't get rewarded for it. Whether they want to be or not, these people are role models for our kids, and we finally have the power to pick and choose those people as we see fit.
Forcing the industry's employees to stay somewhat sane and not quite so criminal keeps them in touch with the majority of its audience. You know, the people who can't quite relate to kidnapping and torturing women for fun. And yes, we do believe that removing them is a good thing.