If you believe the data, then one question remains. Why have the more pessimistic predictions not come to pass? One incontrovertible reason is that — contrary to the justifiable fears of a decade ago — people will still pay for creative works. The Napsterization of culture turned out to be less of a threat to prices than it initially appeared. Consumers spend less for recorded music, but more for live. Most American households pay for television content, a revenue stream that for all practical purposes didn’t exist 40 years ago. Average movie-ticket prices continue to rise. For interesting reasons, book piracy hasn’t taken off the way it did with music. And a whole new creative industry — video games — has arisen to become as lucrative as Hollywood. American households in 2013 spent 4.9 percent of their income on entertainment, the exact same percentage they spent in 2000.
At the same time, there are now more ways to buy creative work, thanks to the proliferation of content-delivery platforms. Practically every device consumers own is tempting them at all hours with new films or songs or shows to purchase. Virtually no one bought anything on their computer just 20 years ago; the idea of using a phone to buy and read a 700-page book about a blind girl in occupied France would have sounded like a joke even 10 years ago. But today, our phones sell us every form of media imaginable; our TVs charge us for video-on-demand products; our car stereos urge us to sign up for SiriusXM.
And just as there are more avenues for consumers to pay for creative work, there are more ways to be compensated for making that work. Think of that signature flourish of 2000s-era television artistry: the exquisitely curated (and usually obscure) song that signals the transition from final shot to the rolling credits. Having a track featured during the credits of ‘‘Girls’’ or ‘‘Breaking Bad’’ or ‘‘True Blood’’ can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to a songwriter. (Before that point, the idea of licensing a popular song for the credits of a television series was almost unheard-of.) Video-game budgets pay for actors, composers, writers and song licenses. There are YouTube videos generating ad revenue and Amazon Kindle Singles earning royalties, not to mention those emerging studios (like Netflix and Yahoo) that are spending significant dollars on high-quality video. Filmmakers alone have raised more than $290 million on Kickstarter for their creations. Musicians are supplementing their income with instrument lessons on YouTube. All of these outlets are potential sources of revenue for the creative class, and all of them are creatures of the post-Napster era. The Future of Music Coalition recently published a list of all the revenue streams available to musicians today, everything from sheet-music sales at concerts to vinyl-album sales. They came up with 46 distinct sources, 13 of which — including YouTube partner revenue and ringtone royalties — were nonexistent 15 years ago, and six of which, including film and television licensing, have greatly expanded in the digital age.
The biggest change of all, perhaps, is the ease with which art can be made and distributed. The cost of consuming culture may have declined, though not as much as we feared. But the cost of producing it has dropped far more drastically. Authors are writing and publishing novels to a global audience without ever requiring the service of a printing press or an international distributor. For indie filmmakers, a helicopter aerial shot that could cost tens of thousands of dollars a few years ago can now be filmed with a GoPro and a drone for under $1,000; some directors are shooting entire HD-quality films on their iPhones. Apple’s editing software, Final Cut Pro X, costs $299 and has been used to edit Oscar-winning films. A musician running software from Native Instruments can recreate, with astonishing fidelity, the sound of a Steinway grand piano played in a Vienna concert hall, or hundreds of different guitar-amplifier sounds, or the Mellotron proto-synthesizer that the Beatles used on ‘‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’’ These sounds could have cost millions to assemble 15 years ago; today, you can have all of them for a few thousand dollars.