The history of creative people trying to sell their creative works for a profit is as old as commerce itself. In fact, it is just as likely that the first thing bargained for was a piece of art, as it was a cow or sheep.
Commerce for creative people involved them bringing their art or performing in places where people gathered. In this scenario the creative person acted as the creator, marketer, agent, and distributor, having to excel in each of these jobs in order to make a good living. If you look through history you see that many famous creators, could not market or sell their works, and as a result died in obscurity, only to have their creative works discovered after their death because of great marketing or salesmanship.
Creators as Their Own Agents and Managers
As time progressed these dynamics never changed. Marketing and selling is key to the success of a creator. And creators understood this. They would do their best to put their creative works into the view of a public, with varying degrees of success. Their challenge is that creating, marketing, and selling require different sets of sometimes contradictory skills in order to be effective. Few creators have been skilled in all of these areas, but in those early days creators had to wear multiple hats. As a result, they often did not reach their full potential as creators.
This led to creators having to trust in others to do right by them regarding their creative works and skills. Performers for instance who would travel with fairs from city to city would give the majority of what they made to the people who owned the fairs and who would bring in the crowds. This living was hard and not very rewarding.
Creators Works Were Often Commissioned by Royalty
In different societies royalty or governments would often commission creative people to create or perform their works. For instance most of the great paintings and musical compositions we know today, were commissioned by wealthy benefactors who wanted the work completed for their own personal enjoyment and that of their friends and peers. Artists commissioned in these arrangements, including Beethoven, and Michelangelo lived comfortable, but not extravagant lives on their commissions. This also meant that creative people could not usually pick the works they wanted to create. Instead they were given an order to fill. This situation kept some creators fed, but did not give them creative freedom.
The World Gets Smaller and Creative People Need Representatives
As times changed and travel become more popular, the marketing of creative works became a national, and then international business. This required informal agents who would transport and oversee the marketing and sales of the works creators produced or the creators themselves. Often these middlemen would give creators a down payment for their work and creators would have to trust that the middlemen would pay them properly even though they knew in the end the middlemen would only actually pay them a portion of what they were due.
In the art business, many auction houses also emerged charging commissions of 50% of the sales price of the art work. Creators had little chance of negotiating when these companies were often the only game in town with access to all of the buyers.
Formal Agents Come into the Business
Although talent agents can be traced back to Ancient Rome, it was always a shady business that usually involved shifty characters who more often than not were thieves who never had access to the creator or creative work they claimed. These shadowy characters who were fast talking and seemed to move their offices regularly, made a skill of never writing things down and constantly changing terms. Creators never knew where they stood with this group, but again with not many other options, these agents saw their power grow considerably.
During the Renaissance in Europe (1400s to the 1700s) there was such an explosion of creatives that the agent business skyrocketed and actually became legitimate. Formal talent agencies and even managers popped up all over Europe to represent the talent that filled the cities. Accompanying this was a growth in performance venues and places where art was sold. It became necessary to be represented by an agent or powerful manager in order to interact with these businesses, and as a result creatives found themselves nearly completely removed from interacting with the end buyers of their works.
The music business is a great example of how commerce began to involve formal agents and even the government. Copyright laws protecting music were established with legislation in the UK, Germany and France in the 1770s. In the US, up through the late 1800s, music composers would play their compositions in live settings for audiences and when the performance was over, they would sell the sheet music. Because few performers were wealthy, printing their sheet music was an expensive cost for them. So they would often cut a deal with the printers who were usually publishers to reproduce and sell their music at performances and in stores. The publishers would often ask composers for a share of the song as their fees. This meant that a music publisher would own the composition with the composer. Needless to say this was very unfair to composers. The US government stepped in and a publishing component was created to every song, allowing composers to pay publishers without sharing copyright ownership of the song. However the publishers used this component to create an administration element to contracts, giving them an additional 20% of the royalties and complete control of the song. Unscrupulous publishers (who were the most common type) could by claiming fees and expenses, never pay composers for even the most successful music. The music publishing business today is more than $4 BN annually with music publishers taking more than 65% of the revenue in spite of not creating one song.
Similar situations happens even today and also with managers of musicians, actors and other performers. They get paid on the gross amount generated while all expenses are taken out of the creator’s cut. This often means that the manager or agent will make more money for a performance or artwork than the creator.
The Internet Changes Everything
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that communicate together to form one worldwide computer system It consists of private, public, academic, business, and government networks It is linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical devices and technologies In the 1990s, the Internet was introduced to the world and it quickly became apparent that it would change everything for nearly everyone. The Internet makes it possible to quickly find information, communicate with people around the world, manage your finances, shop from home, listen to music, watch videos, and much more. For creators this represented the first chance for them to take sole control of their creative businesses.
For the creative community who by this time nearly depended exclusively on intermediaries to reach their audience and sell their works, the Internet offered an opportunity to market and distribute their works on their own, gain a much larger share of the revenue and finally control their revenue paying fans. There was talk that the middlemen’s grip on the creative industries would finally be broken.
Platforms like Facebook and Youtube on the internet emerged promising creators they could help them to break free from the middlemen. They also excelled at attracting and aggregating fans who want to support creators.
But although the Internet has proven itself as a medium that is the foundation for the changes creators want, and platforms like Twitter and Instagram have created lots of wealthy platform owners, only a small number of creatives are able to utilize them to manage their creative businesses independent of the middlemen. The vast majority saw no change.
For the many creators who wondered what went wrong, several factors that became clear when the Internet and existing platforms where creators congregate, failed to cause change. For creators to be able to turn their careers into thriving businesses they must have the following:
- Tools and strategies that are specifically created to cause this change —The Internet is a generalized tool that is amazing but is not specifically designed to cause the type of change and empowerment that creators need to accomplish their goals. The existing platforms in the best case only provide a partial list of features that help creators. What Creators need are specifically designed tools and strategies for the transformation they seek.
- A business model that supports their goals. — Too often the existing platforms put their agendas in opposition with creators. This happens most often because the platforms must serve several masters. For those that use advertising, they must place ads alongside a creator’s works. Often these ads distract from the creative work and contradict the creator’s beliefs. The platforms also manage the creator’s fans for their own benefit instead of in a way that supports the creator. Finally they utilize algorithms that cause movement across their platforms that often conflicts with the creator goals.
- Key partners aligned with an intent to cause the change creators need — Creator platforms have to decide who is the most important stakeholder when designing their platform and business strategies, and it is them. This decision dictates how they must evolve their platforms and operate their businesses. When there are tough decisions to make about their relationships with creators, they will always select the choice that provides themselves short term benefits. Creators need platforms that treat them like partners, acting on their behalf and with the intention of seeing them thrive, not as an afterthought.
The Passion Economy
The Passion Economy from creators wanting to get more from their social networking efforts. Creators appreciated the fact that fans would congregate on platforms like Facebook and Tik Tok to engage with them and show love and support for their work, but they hated that they could not benefit fully financially from their efforts, that they did not control their IP, and that they did not have management of their fan bases on the existing platforms. Out of this frustration came new types of creator-centric platforms that aim to build their businesses around the success of creators.
The New Creator-Centric Platforms — Blockchain Social Networks & Online Marketplaces
From the frustration of creators seeking better outcomes on online platforms two types platform emerged, blockchain based social networking platforms and online marketplaces. Blockchain based social networking platforms like Steemit and Minds have attempted to utilize a modified social networking paradigm to give creators more benefits. They promote that creators get paid directly or content that is viewed on their networks and that they will not be censored. The challenge however is that a social networking model where unrestricted communication, trolls, bad actors and gossip are allowed to proliferate erodes the core element necessary for fairness and vibrant transactions to occur and that is trust. Without trust, it is extremely difficult for creators to market and sell their goods. As a result, these platforms have not gained a foothold with large numbers of creators.
Online marketplaces like Patreon, OnlyFans and OpenSea have had much more success than blockchain based social media companies. Each hosts hundreds of thousands of creators and many have been able to use these platforms to generate much more revenue than the social networks. These platforms however work best for creators who have been successful on social media platforms previously because trying to build and audience on either of them is exceedingly difficult. Further, these platforms do not have the ideal tools for effectively managing and building fan communities.
OpenSea is the largest NFT marketplace. It allows creators to mint and sell this new form of cryptocurrency that has recently passed $1 BN in monthly sales. NFTs offer a way for creators to create and control their content and guarantee to buyers authenticity and rarity. Although OpenSea has a few NFT creators who generate lots of revenue the vast majority of creators make very little money on the platform. This is primarily due to a lack of a standardized way to build a community for your artwork.
Where We are Now and What is Next for Creators — TrustVibes
The way forward for creators in the Passion Economy is to engage with platforms that have the three critical elements built into their models. They need tools and strategies that are specifically designed to assist them to be self-sufficient, platforms that have a business model that supports their needs, and platform that function like partners with a specific intent to help them thrive.
One great example of this new type of platform is the new app from blockchain company TrustVibes. They have taken a unique and powerful approach that combines the best elements of a social network and a marketplace to create the ultimate creator centric environment. Their social app provides all of the benefits of the best social networks and removes the negative elements that limit or prohibit creator growth. The app has a long list of features that enhances the reach and earning potential for creators and is really easy to use
The TrustVibes app utilizes a social format called TrustCircles that is 100% controlled by the creator. Fans are invited into creator TrustCircles and all receive enhanced benefits. Creators get a supportive environment that generates positive publicity and more sales. They can also host events within the app such as the launch of a new NFT, or use the app to promote off-app events like concerts. Fans get better access to and limited edition NFTs from their favorite creators, a healthy social environment, and sometimes even a share in the revenue. The result is a vibrant ecosystem that grows stronger and more resilient as it matures.
Creators are also encouraged to share their TrustCircles on the app, allowing them to collaborate with other creators on projects creating a network effect that benefits both creators and their combined fan communities. If all of this sounds like TrustVibes knows their stuff it is because the app was developed with vital input form actual creators.
The TrustVibes app is taking its place as a vital tool for the Passion Economy and as more creators learn about its powerful features, it will certainly grow in popularity, providing a tool for creative to finally have the ability to remove middlemen from their creator businesses.