Why Are Artists Poor?


It’s a question close to our hearts, and Andrew Keen — who has argued, in his own words, that “the Internet is killing our culture and undermining the livelihood of cultural producers” — addresses it in a Telegraph UK article that has been promiscuously tweeted in the last few days.

Keen posed the question to his Twitter followers and received “everything from lucid one-worders like ‘oversupply’ to philosophical tweets such as ‘because they live in the moment’ to Clay Shirky’s terse and elliptically authoritative ‘unequal distribution of talent + supply and demand’.”

But Keen observes that certain artists have historically done quite well, and he cites the case of Jonathan Littell and his million-dollar US book deal for The Kindly Ones. That kind of thing will eventually disappear, he argues, because everybody steals stuff on the internet. (To paraphrase.)


“The irony of the digital commodification of content is that, while it destroys the value of the copy, it is actually adding to the value of physical events.” Musicians now give away recordings to promote shows; writers give away their books in order to promote personal appearances.

At the end he advises artists to get on Twitter, because “it’s an excellent platform to build one’s brand, acquire a substantial following and publish provocative remarks. To begin, you might pose the question: Why are artists poor?”

A lazy, contrived ending? Yes. But when I made that observation on my own Twitter account, Nancy Friedman shot back: “From a journalistic POV, yes. But I know artists who resist social media and need to hear that message.” Fair enough.

Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →