I was one of those arguing for a new model that leaves the old "pay for content" behind, but in the past few years I have been taking a closer look at the data and tried to consciously ignore all the static and starry eyed discussion. What I have seen is not encouraging. Stories like this one about the highly successful "Humble ebook Bundle" make a big splash and seem to suggest that the new model is working, but they are devoid of real analysis. They are also methodologically unsound, as there is not real attempt to extrapolate and compare the success stories to the general industry. More recent stories about writer's struggles with Amazon, famous photographers "quitting" could be utilized to make the exact opposite argument.
What is truly interesting is that while many artists are still making large amounts of money, evidence from the music industry suggests that the monies are concentrated in the hands of those at the top. The rich getting richer, the middle class evaporating, and the poor expanding.
From "The Shazam Effect" (link above):
The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn 77 percent of all revenue from recorded music, media researchers report. And even though the amount of digital music sold has surged, the 10 best-selling tracks command 82 percent more of the market than they did a decade ago. The advent of do-it-yourself artists in the digital age may have grown music’s long tail, but its fat head keeps getting fatter.
My discussions and research into fine arts and photography suggest that a similar situation may be evolving. Writing is a wild card; because of the low cost entry point in terms of technical skill and personal time, more people are able to write and sell, resulting in more "self published success". While I have not been able to find any solid numbers, I am guessing that the self published authors who are successful are not greater as a percentage of the total number of people writing. I have not done the research for the movie industry yet, which has the exact opposite problem of writing. Box office movies are extremely expensive, so much so, that the cost may be offsetting the record profits we see. This question is significant enough to me, that I have actually assigned this research problem to my Information Ecology students this semester in Mass Communications.
At Mesa County Libraries we are consciously addressing this challenge and attempting to develop alternative business models that should monetize artists works up front and scale across the state. For example, we have recently purchased about 250 images of local wildlife and geographic points of interest. We only pay $5/image and each photographer has agreed to allow us to configure the images for legal download for educational and nonprofit use only. Students and nonprofit institutions can actually find and access vetted professional quality images legally through us (or will when we get the tech sorted out). It seems like a rip off to these photographers at first blush, but when you consider that 500px and Flickr pay nothing up the deal gets better. It gets even better if many libraries across the state buy the same images for their patrons. Even though we are the lead library in a 30 library consortium all using the same interface, the legal arrangement between us and the photographer allows only paying libraries to turn the content on. The photographers agreed to a sliding scale where smaller libraries pay less and larger libraries pay more. There are about 120 libraries across the state many of which would and should find the content valuable, meaning that every photographer who sells us 100 images stands to reasonable make up to 50k over the course of the next few years- far more money than any of them are making currently.
I am currently writing a Comprehensive Plan for our district that I will post here once finished that goes into greater detail about this plan.