The Supply-Demand Problem of the Dream Job

Music, art, acting, writing. These are activities many people undertake for fun, and only a very small percentage of those ever have an opportunity to make enough money to call it a full-time gig. Outside the creative world, jobs like “day care teacher” or “book store clerk” appeal to so many young people that businesses get away with paying the lowest possible wage, yet jobs almost never open up, and when they do there’s no shortage of applicants.

I read an article this morning about aspiring professional distance runners who lack the kind of traditional sponsorships that normally mark an athlete as “professional.” The runners in question move to Albuquerque or Flagstaff to train at altitude and get by on a sub-poverty level of income (the article mentioned $500-1,000 per month) earned from part-time jobs as waiters or retail clerks. It got me thinking about the nature of aspiration, and how some dream jobs are so common (in terms of number of dreamers, not number of job openings) that the number of people chasing after them vastly outnumber the opportunities available. These are people who work very hard, put in a level of effort that would certainly allow them to be successful in other arenas if they were inclined to pursue money-making with the same passion.

Back to the creative world again, the vast majority of struggling musicians, artists, actors and writers never make anything like a real wage for their efforts, yet still they try. This results in a horde of frustrated creative types willing to give away their work for nothing. In the music world it means fewer people are willing to pay for music because such an abundance exists of free downloads. The equivalent in the world of publishing is that web publishing and e-book publishing lead to more and more material being available to read, often free of charge or at a price like 99 cents. This makes it much more difficult for the “middle class” of creative artists to make money from their work.

Just read Caitlin R. Kiernan’s blog entry today which touches on this very thing, from a different angle. “Why does nobody worry about pissing off the artist?” Because there are so many queued up behind saying “You can piss ME off, I won’t mind. You don’t even have to pay me.”

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