Do you subscribe to Netflix? If so, you are one of the more-than-50-million people who do. I have the service, myself, and love it. I prefer to consume television shows (content) from beginning to end and Netflix allows you to do this better than anyone before. Oh, and It’s also only, what, $9 a month?
Basically, Netflix delivers a lot of value at a low cost. But it also does some other things. They have the ability, given the platform they’ve created and the subscribers they’ve accrued, to provide us with something even more valuable: original content. In the last couple years, Netflix has released the multi-Emmy-nominated House of Cards and Orange is the New Black to critical acclaim and cult-like fan followings. There are other projects as well, including Hemlock Grove and continuations of previously created content such as the fourth season of Arrested Development.
In the rapidly changing environment of content production and consumption, though, Netflix has been able to provide an attractive space for creators such as Beau Willimon (House of Cards), Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black, formerly Weeds) and Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development) that has allowed them more creative control and latitude than ever before. Essentially, Netflix has become not only a curator of content but an actual content creator. What does this mean? You — the consumer, the people — are directly funding some of the best artistic work ever done in television.
And, doesn’t it feel good? Not only do you get to experience these fantastic creations but you go to bed at then end of the night (most likely around 4 or 5 a.m. if you’re watching the latest season, right?) knowing you helped make this thing happen. You contributed to Kevin Spacey’s quest for the White House. You allowed us to see women’s prisons in a whole new light. You demanded that possibly the most misunderstood Sit Com (if you can even call it that) ever, loved by all yet canceled halfway through its third season, got just one more. I’ll spell it out: if it wasn’t for you, these things never would have happened. We might never have had the privilege to experience these fantastic stories. Now, I’ll ask again: doesn’t it feel good? Good.
Now, here’s what I propose. Those creators — Willimon, Kohan and Hurwitz — were already successful to some degree, had creations or careers of their own in the industry. But there are other creators out there — artists, writers, photographers, videographers, musicians and more — who aren’t successful yet. That doesn’t mean they don’t have great art to share with the world.
In fact, there are already success stories that have been and are being written in the “mainstream” by people like this. These people, instead of going the traditional funding route (cause every artist still has to get funded) of a music label, publisher or otherwise, have, instead, asked people, their audience, you, to contribute and allow them to continue their work. There’s Amanda Palmer, a musician, who, in the wake of mainstream “failure” (she only sold 25,000 copies of her debut) and not being able to support herself, turned to crowdfunding and raised $1.2 million via a Kickstarter campaign that, turns out, had just about 25,000 contributors. There’s Ksenia Anske, a budding author, who quit her job in 2012 to write full-time and is in the process of publishing her fifth novel. Ksenia is giving her art away and asking for contributions from readers to support her writing. Zach Braff and others have funded films with this model. I, myself, am working on a journalistic project, Milwaukee Stories, that I’m funding through Patreon.com, an awesome website that allows people to support creators of all kinds. This is the new artistic economy.
So, if you’re excited about contributing to these recently brilliant series’ from Netflix, why not try and double — or even triple — your money? By that, I mean: there are tons of fantastic talents who are just starting out, who the Internet has allowed to put their work out there for all to see. Why not take that $9 you put toward Netflix every month and put that same amount toward an independent creator or two? What do you like? Writing, painting, music, cartoons, photography, maps? Whatever it is, you can find someone who does that and who does it well — just because they’re not making a living off it right now doesn’t mean it’s not good. And, if you think about that investment over a whole year, it doesn’t sound so bad, does it? So, go out there, find some people who are making cool shit and consider contributing to their work. You never know, they could be the next big thing. Either way, you’ll be putting your money toward something that directly supports creators, directly enables their creations and makes you feel good. How can you beat that?