Cost of Creation

Mpepper/ May 16, 2024/ Think Pieces

I’ll say it again: the onus of the cost of creation is shifting towards the creators. Which means that marginalized voices are becoming even further excluded because they cannot afford to create.

Used to be, a writer came up with a book, or a play, or a film script, and sold it to people willing to invest in it. The writer made money that allowed him (or her, or them) to continue making art. The publisher, or producer, or studio—whomever had bought the words—paid to for the process of getting those words to the wider world. In exchange for a large cut of the anticipated profits, of course, but since they were funding the venture and taking on the perceived risk of failure, it seemed like a fair deal.

But the costs of production climbed. Publishers and producers and studios decided they wanted safer bets. They began taking fewer risks on new and original material. Better to stick with things they knew they could sell, things they were sure of. Established creators and IP became the focus. Creators suddenly had to prove—in advance of purchase—their viability in the market.

Creation takes time. It takes money, too, but it didn’t used to take as much money as it does now. Once upon a time, all you needed was a typewriter (complete with ribbon), some paper, and stamps and envelopes. (Yes, I’m turning into the grumbling old person.) Now, publishers want to see if you can be successful on your own, which means producing your own work first and only landing a deal if you manage to market and sell well. That means sinking money into a cover, formatting, maybe even editors and proofreaders if you can’t source those services from friends and/or family. And then paying for, oh, a Goodreads giveaway, or reviews, or ads, etc. By the time you know if you’re lucky—because, again, it is a gamble, no matter how good your work is or how good you are at selling it—you may no longer need an agent or publisher. And if you do need them, they won’t want you.

A similar thing happens in the stage and screen industries. I’ve been told I can pay to have my plays staged (pay actors a stipend, rent the space), pretty much acting as my own producer. I’ve been told that, if I want to break into screenwriting, I should make my own movie(s) first. The reason I publish books is that it’s at least less expensive than mounting full stage or film productions.

And I’m lucky to be able to publish my own books. Many people do not have the luxury of doing even that much. They carve out time to write, they make sacrifices for that dream, and then hit the wall of “Prove Yourself.”

Yes, I know there are exceptions. But this is the trend I’m seeing, broadly, when it comes to writing. It’s what I’m seeing in movies: the same IPs over and over, the same kinds of stories being told again and again, and every time something new is successful, studios are amazed. Audiences are starved for variety. Some audiences aren’t being fed at all, or maybe they’re offered a token morsel now and then and told to be grateful for it.

Because those audiences are seen as too small, too niche, to warrant the expenditure. The risk. We need to turn up for the little guys if we want better choices at the content buffet. Otherwise, it will continue to be pizza with a few different toppings, and not much else.

The cost for creating art is devolving onto the creators, and the price of that is high for all of us as consumers.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s so true. I see so many older movies and TV shows being remade, so they don’t have to take a risk on new ones. Or they’re resorting to AI generated material. I know I’m lucky to write fulltime too, and I know I’m the exception. I don’t make money to equal the amount of work I put in, and I certainly can’t afford to put money into it. Many people just can’t afford to create anymore, not even for themselves, and it’s incredibly sad.

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