Last month, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced a change in how it calculates the country's gross domestic product (GDP). A measure of economic health, GDP has in the past excluded the costs of creating new works of art.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the part of the Department of Commerce that calculates GDP, now considers pre-release spending on books, movies and music to be capital investments. As a result, the spending is added to GDP, improving the total size of the U.S. economy.
GDP figures have been restated for every year since 1929, a year when film started to become a commercial entity. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the change added $70 billion in investments in "artistic originals" to the 2007 GDP, roughly 0.5% of the total U.S. economy that year. Of that $70 billion, an estimated $9 billion came from the creation of book content.
Interestingly, newspapers and magazines are generally excluded from the new calculations. An economist with the Bureau of Economic Analysis told Jeff Sommer of the New York Times:
It’s simply that daily journalism is perishable, he said. It’s not worth much commercially a year after it’s published.
Sommer goes on to note:
Work in other creative fields is being excluded from the investment category, too, and for similar reasons. “Seinfeld” has long-term commercial value, he said. “Monday Night Football” does not, at least not in the new calculations. TV sitcoms and dramas generally count as investments. Soap operas, reality shows and sports do not.
The message seems pretty clear: "write once, read many" is a net addition to the U.S. economy. Newspapers and magazines have defaulted to "write once, read once", in effect making their products disposable.
It is possible to create serious journalism that also scales. Adhering to an established (ad-driven) model won't get us there. We need something closer to "write once, read many".