Can the rap king Jay Z make cooperatives cool — for the tipping point creators need to restore livelihoods hollowed out by the net?
Quotation highlighted in the print edition of a venerable newspaper last Sunday:
‘The content creator should be compensated. It’s only fair.’
Jay Z … whose subscription streaming service, called Tidal, will be majority-owned by artists …
‘The Chatter,’ The New York Times, 5 April 2015
Bravo! Jay Z, for exceeding fine sentiment. Five days earlier, the NYT reported, beneath ‘Jay Z Enters Streaming Music With Artist-Owned Service’:
On Monday, Jay Z, the rap star and entertainment mogul, announced his plans for Tidal, a subscription streaming service he recently bought for $56 million. Facing competition from Spotify, Google and other companies that will soon include Apple, Tidal will be fashioned as a home for high-fidelity audio and exclusive content.
But perhaps the most notable part of Jay Z’s strategy is that a majority of the company will be owned by artists. The move may bring financial benefits for those involved, but it is also powerfully symbolic in a business where musicians have seldom had direct control over how their work is consumed.
“This is a platform that’s owned by artists,” Jay Z said in an interview last week as he prepared for the news conference announcing the service. “We are treating these people that really care about the music with the utmost respect.”
On that same last day of March, Charlie Hebdo staff members bent on turning their weekly into a cooperative were conspicuously running up their rebel flag again – in an opinion piece about the paper’s future published in Le Monde — France’s closest equivalent of The New York Times.
Extract (a free translation, of which post-Gutenberg will gratefully accept correction and refinement):
Charlie must go on, … and stay true to the values in its DNA, and the spirit of its founders … [retain] complete political and financial independence, with shareholding restricted to employees of the newspaper, to the exclusion of outside investors and advertising influence, defending an alternative economic model …
What would best guarantee Charlie’s continued freedom of thought and expression?
A flat organisational structure (architecture). By using a form of cooperative society that we have discussed internally for years — directly in line with the social economy Charlie has always advocated — the newspaper must give up its status as a commercial enterprise. By giving each of us the right to take part collectively in decisions affecting the newspaper, … and to be involved in rebuilding what is so much more than a mere employer, to us.
… We have heard that a new ownership structure is being designed, excluding us.
… We refuse to let our newspaper become tempting prey, or be made the object of political and/or financial manipulation, we refuse to allow a few individuals to take partial or complete control of it, with absolute contempt for those who produce and support it.
So, is this zeitgeist, genuinely the spirit of a new era, on display — at a French satirical magazine, and in New York, in the words of one of the most successful popular musicians alive — or a mere coincidence?
As noted in our last post, in sympathy with the would-be Charlie Hebdo reformers, we love the idea of a staff-owned or, in the case of Tidal, musician-owned cooperative — but would be even more delighted by a structure that allowed readers and audience members to become shareholders and co-owners.
A cooperative owned only by creators risks becoming like the medieval craftsmen’s guilds, of which the Cambridge historian Sheilagh Ogilvie has written:
Half the population was inherently excluded, since very few guilds allowed female members … Most guilds also excluded Jews, bastards, migrants, laborers, farmers, propertiless men, former serfs and slaves, gypsies, members of other guilds, adherents of minority religions, men of “impure” ethnicity, and those who couldn’t afford the admission fees. As one nineteenth-century Spaniard put it, those without funds “called in vain at the door of the guild, for it was opened only with a silver key”.
Guild membership was reserved to a privileged minority, even in towns.
Originally, guilds helped skilled artisans to earn respect, liberating them to different degrees from feudal lords and serfdom — but then they themselves became too powerful and exclusionary.
Let us hope that Jay Z – who launched himself, producing and promoting his own music after he was rejected by the gatekeepers of corporate recorded music — can stay true to his mission, as in this re-affirmation and blast at accusations that he has sold out and given up on revolution:
Motherfuckers say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels
Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it? …
… Just read a magazine that fucked up my day
How you rate music that thugs with nothing relate to it
I help them see they way through it, not you
Can’t step in my pants, can’t walk in my shoes
Bet everything you’re worth, you’ll lose your tie and your shirt …
— ‘Renegade’, Jay Z and Eminem, 2001