The Rise Of The 'Professional Amateur' And The Fall Of Gated, Exclusionary 'Clubs'
from the the-internet-is-the-ultimate-siege-engine dept
As the gatekeepers continue to see their carefully constructed walls crumbling, they have rushed to shore up the walls using any means at their disposal, whether it’s legislation, lawsuits or simple exclusion. But those within the gates aren’t much happier, despite the limitations imposed by the gatekeepers, and many are just as resistant to change as the legacy industries they work in.
Tadhg Kelly at GamesBrief has delivered an excellent post explaining why it’s so hard for the creators still working within the confines of these industries to embrace the future:
Creative industries tend to be like clubs. You can get into the club in many ways, but all of them are equally difficult. You’ve put the time in, done the training, had the lucky breaks, struggled and finally made it. Once you are actually in the club then life is easier. You have a name, you are a part of a network and you work with a lot of the same people year in year out. Members rarely fall out of the club entirely…
We are pros. We are “in”. And we are aware that there are so many more people who are not “in” that would like to be.
Perhaps they have an overly-romantic notion of what it’s like but that’s just how it is. All creative fields, from modern art through to advertising have that lustre because people like the idea of making things for a living.
That last sentence is key. Even as the limitations and drawbacks of yoking your creative output to a major label or a large publishing house become more apparent, the lure remains nearly as strong, simply because for a long period of time, these legacy industries were the best option. But now they’re not, and this threatens those still working within the system.
[P]art of being “in” is the sense that the club can’t get too big, and for many the internet is actually pushing to make the club smaller. Book publishers, for example, no longer offer much in the way of advances. Long-tail services like Netflix and Spotify have such huge libraries that every new artist is competing not just with their peers, but their antecedents also. Distribution may rise but prices fall.
They feel squeezed by piracy. Though they dislike it, many who are “in” quietly believe that they have to keep many more people “out” in order to hold on to what remains. I don’t mean executives etc. I mean established writers, musicians, game makers and so on. We live in a curious age where the freest of thinkers (artists of various stripes) are the ones that want to curtail freedom the most.
The pressure to control the internet isn’t simply studio execs and big content lobbyists. The pressure is also exerted by those on the inside, who aren’t happy to see huge shifts in the gameplan or new blood being introduced. But even worse, they can’t tell whether the gates are protecting them or trapping them.
Those who are “in” also feel squeezed by something else: Democratisation of tools. It’s bad enough that they have to deal with a loss of revenue, but a reduction of difficulty in getting into the club threatens to increase its size many times over. The future is a world awash with low-rent ebooks, GarageBand music and GameMaker-developed games. Quality will collapse, and there will be no future for the professional any more.
This opinion is expressed quite often during discussions about legacy industries, that if the barriers are low enough, everyone’s going to jump the fence and water down the creative field. To those in the club, it looks hopeless: set adrift in a sea of low-talent amateurs whose willingness to undercut the competition with massive amounts of cheap/free goods.
But they fail to see the upside to the removal of barriers:
In the startup world, the reduction of barriers is a great boon. You can, for example, assemble a small team and go create a tool that will change the world. As an individual you can create a blog that causes conversations and change. You can develop a game, make music, start a design agency, and all you need is a laptop.
With the barriers to entry removed, the stage is set for a new breed of creators: the professional amateur.
It’s not amateur in the sense of a lack of diligence, nor is it professional in the sense of those who are “in”. The forces of technology distribution and cheap or free tools creates a space for talent to do what talent wants to do. It creates a class of pro-amateur makers.
A pro-amateur perhaps works on a project as a side-line to her day-job but she treats it seriously. Like any struggling writer, there is the work and the need to pay the rent. The difference is that the pro-amateur then takes her work and distributes it directly. She creates a book, an album, a TV series and just puts it out there. It only really costs her time to do it, and if it works it works. If not, she does something else.
As has always been the case, making money in the creative world is hard. Most people cannot afford to do it as their only source of income. This isn’t a new problem, although many of those on the inside of the “club” tend to portray it as such. But this new hybrid form of creator will be able to do things they can’t, thanks to platforms and tools they embrace, rather than distrust.
The magic of the internet is therefore this: It substitutes time spent getting into the club with time spent finding fans. Expertise with experience. Legitimacy with audience. Jargon with generosity. And for those with the talent to do it well come the rewards because niche audiences that blossom into tribes exist for almost anything you can think of.
To coin a phrase (ha!), Connect with Fans and give them a Reason to Buy.