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.

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Comments on “The Rise Of The 'Professional Amateur' And The Fall Of Gated, Exclusionary 'Clubs'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve been trying (and failing) to get my stories published since before the Internet caught on. The major difference between then and now? Back in the day, I’d get rejection slips (if I was lucky), and nobody ever saw my work. Now, I get rejection emails, but thanks to epublishing, people have actually read my stuff! Not a lot, sure, but more than zero! (Seven is more than zero, for example.)

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:


Publish to multiple free outlets in ebook format–offer your books for free and gain a fan-base while refining your writing style.

When you fan-base begins number in the thousands, begin self-publishing your work on Amazon (or others) for a few dollars apiece. If your fans convert to supporters, you’ll make a few hundred or thousand dollars per book at that point.

Ta-da! Respected author-person-ship!

MrWilson says:


It seems that way. When Mike or Tim or Glyn posts a long article with multiple points throughout and the first comment four minutes after the article posts is something along the lines of, “you’re just getting nuttier [Mike/Tim/Glyn/Nina]. ha!”, I actually miss some of the long diatribes of the fundamentalists like TAM and OOTB that were actually full of froth and absurdity.

Anonymous Coward says:

I love these words

niche audiences that blossom into tribes

To me, that sums up exactly what the internet is about.

A vast virtual world where one’s intellect freely roams from tribe to tribe. It’s paradoxically both one, singularly enormous community, and a countless number of almost inconsequentially tiny villages. All without regard for geography, money, or any of the other traditional levers of power.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my intellect will wander over to another tribe for a short while…

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s a wonderful idea, but once again failed the signal to noise test.

If everyone is a writer, than how many are really consumers? They are too busy writing to consume.

The simple test is online. How many millions of wordpress blogs, and how many of them get more than 100 visitors a day? It’s simple math, when you increase the amount of content significantly, without expanding the amount of time individuals have to view that material, you end up with fewer and fewer people paying attention.

Amateur has always existed, in almost every field. The internet gives they a way to shout for attention, but that attention comes at the expense of others. Since it has already been shown that “pro” content is what most people are looking for, the amateurs would once again appear to be stealing attention from one another, slicing the same piece of the pie thinner and thinner for each.

TimothyAWiseman (profile) says:

Editors and Reviewers

I love the variety that can spring up due to lower barriers to entry in many of these fields.

Yet, after sifting through a substantial amount of low quality material it seems that as gatekeepers become less necessary, editors and reviewers to help identify, refine, and highlight the work that is of genuinely high quality will become far more significant.

weneedhelp (profile) says:


“If everyone is a writer, than how many are really consumers? They are too busy writing to consume.”

And stop reading there. You really believe that?

“Since it has already been shown that “pro” content is what most people are looking for”
Citation needed.
Really? you think so? Because in the beginning Youtube was nothing but pros posting videos. /s

Endtimer (profile) says:

Just pointing out

I find the most interesting thing is that it’s not any easier to get into the old club, so much as newer clubs are opening up, usually run by the very people trying to get in. Take a look at the CBC Radio 3, a nation wide internet radio station devoted exclusively to promoting independant artists. Many of the show hosts and producers were indie artists themselves at one point.

There are new little communities popping up every now and again, the best ones are usually run by current or former musicians themselves and rather the record label sort of top down “Artist x has a new cd, buy it!” type communication they have lots of “Hey, it’s Artist y, and I was thinking…” conversations.

I have no idea where I’m going with this, just interesting to me.

Someantimalwareguy (profile) says:

Editors and Reviewers

Yet, after sifting through a substantial amount of low quality material it seems that as gatekeepers become less necessary, editors and reviewers to help identify, refine, and highlight the work that is of genuinely high quality will become far more significant.

Exactly…Remember what the Internet and discussion forums were like back in the late 90’s? 1,000 posts/sites of trash for every gem worth reading and finding anything was a chore that only those who also tolerated reading firewall logs could do with any regularity or focus.

Now you have groups of roving researchers, bloggers, and enthusiastic “ammeters” that have refined this to an art for the benefit of all. This is actually creative work that deserves recognition and praise…

Anonymous Coward says:


The purpose of blogging may not be just to write.
I use blogs as a marketing tool.
Besides doing the occasional hard-sell piece, I do informational articles about the subjects as well as re-presentations of public domain stories.
I’ve gone from 0-5 hits a day per blog to 50-1,000 hits on each blog (I do nine, one daily, five weekly, three occasional)
Every entry has links to my on-line stores.
People come, read the articles, link and buy the merchandise.
It’s like Barnes & Noble, but on the web! (and I don’t end up with dog-eared copies on the shelves!)
How’s that for a new marketing model?
I couldn’t have done something like this ten years ago!
Now it pays some of my bills!

Nihiltres (profile) says:


Yes! The rise of the “professional amateur” is a big deal, and I’d go as far as to suggest that this article, treating it in the confines of “creative industries”, isn’t exclaiming this loudly enough. They are not just musicians and artists, but scientists, encyclopedists (read: Wikipedians), historians, genealogists, and a pile of other intellectual categories, and I think it’s a great thing that they exist.

I doubt that they’ll ever completely overturn the “club”, but they need to be there at very least as a tempering force, a pull in a different direction.

TimothyAWiseman (profile) says:

Editors and Reviewers

In certain areas, yes. I am an enormous fan of wikipedia.

But I am not so certain that process works well for fiction or visual art. Even if I were proven wrong, it wouldn’t really change the fact that there will be a ton of stuff that is just bad or good but outside the genres I like.

I personally am quite willing to pay for someone to collect the best of the “Professional Amateur” work in genres I like, do the tedious but important work of fixing minor typos and grammar errors, and then see to it that I can easily provide some support/compensation to those creators. This seems to be close to the definition of an editor-reviewer.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


“If everyone is a writer, than how many are really consumers? They are too busy writing to consume.”

Ignoring the fact that most people don’t want to be writers (as in actually doing the very hard work of writing), you’re implying that writers don’t buy & read books. I think you’ll find, however, that writers tend to buy & read books at a greater rate than the general population.

“The internet gives they a way to shout for attention, but that attention comes at the expense of others. Since it has already been shown that “pro” content is what most people are looking for, the amateurs would once again appear to be stealing attention from one another, slicing the same piece of the pie thinner and thinner for each.”

Actually, people couldn’t care less if content is made my a “pro” or an “amateur”. What people care about is that the content is of high quality.

Your examples, such as millions of wordpress blogs, assume that each content source will automatically get a percentage of limited attention. This is not the case. Most of the millions of WP blogs get little attention because they’re awful, or they’re vanity blogs that only appeal to the author’s friends, not because there are too many to choose from.

Historically, there has been a strong correlation between “pro” and high quality because if you wanted your content to be widely viewed you had to go through a gatekeeper. That is no longer true, and you can now find an amazing amount of very high quality content produced by pure amateurs.

Rob (profile) says:

The problem with those that feel like they are “in” and the legacy gated community is that they feel like they are the only professionals. They are part of an entertainment industry struggling to entertain. Many that are “in” are of questionable talent. The internet is the great equalizer for distributing talent from a bigger pool of artists. Quality talent is not synonomous with professional especially in Hollywood or Big Labels. Even big game studios struggle to create where smaller teams are more innovative.

and to the comment: “If everyone is a writer, than how many are really consumers? They are too busy writing to consume.”

I do believe that everyone in creative fields are never to busy to consume. Musicians enjoy music, writers read, and game designers play games.

Anonymous Coward says:


what if readership is the type of compensation i am looking for?

i don’t want to get paid because i need the money. I want to get paid because most free publishers don’t put any effort behind their work. a publisher who pays is generally more finacially interested in my work getting purchased.

but in the end? I want readers. 1 reader is worth more than the royalties they sent my way.

Richard (profile) says:


It’s a wonderful idea, but once again failed the signal to noise test…….etc

Ah you really do miss the point don’t you.

Let me spell it out to you.

There is nothing iherently good or desirable in the idea that a few privileged creators dispense their output to the poor unwashed masses.

There is nothing inherently desirable in the idea that you can make a living from music, writing or art.

Many great works have been produced by people who had a day job – Holst’s planet suite is a good example.

If people want to spend their time making their own stuff instead of consuming someone else’s then that is their choice and you have no right to question it.

If they want high quality professional content to be produced then they always have the option of clubbing together and commissioning it via a platform like Kickstarter. ( Like eg Musopen’s recdently completed high quality classical symphony performances). If people really want “professional content then this will happen more and more – if they don’t well then they don’t and you ghave no right to complain.

In fact if you are that keen to have professional content you can jolly well stop writing stupid comments and put your effort into fundraising to commission whatever it is you want.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

I'm looking forward to everyone creating their own art/content

I don’t think the direct-to-fan discussions are nearly as exciting as the explosion of technology that lets everyone create for themselves. As the tools get better, easier to use, and cheap or free, the average person can do what used to be only accessible to those with money. And smart technology is even eliminating the need to have talent or years of training. There are a lot of applications that require only point-and-click skills and yet turn out great stuff.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

I'm looking forward to everyone creating their own art/content

“And smart technology is even eliminating the need to have talent or years of training. There are a lot of applications that require only point-and-click skills and yet turn out great stuff.”

I disagree that smart technology is eliminating the need for talent. You’re right about the years of training, though.

The point-and-click apps let the untalented produce slick garbage, nothing more.

However, the ease that these tools provide means that we see people who have great talent that would have remained undiscovered because they wouldn’t have bothered to go through the years of training.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

I'm looking forward to everyone creating their own art/content

I suppose talent is very subjective, but I have seen/heard/read creations from novices which are as good as what comes from “professionals.” Much of what goes viral on YouTube doesn’t display “talent” but becomes hugely popular for whatever reason. In other words, put the right tools in anyone’s hands and you might or might not get something worthy. Based on what becomes popular, I don’t believe there is a talented elite that is more deserving than the masses. Instead, let’s turn the masses into creators. Yes, there are some creative geniuses, but I don’t think popular culture is driven by them.

And if political discussions are any indication, a lot of Americans don’t want a world driven by the talented. They distrust them. Instead, they want to see a world that looks like them.

I’m very excited by the democratization of creativity.

Nihiltres (profile) says:


Once they’ve “replaced” the old guard, they are the old guard. I’m sure that there will still be a place for 100 million dollar movies as long as there’s profit in it?they’ll merely have to learn to compete with the 10 million, the 1 million, the 1 thousand, or even, occasionally, the 5 dollar movies.

The irony is that organizations as they are developed precisely because they were more efficient than individuals?their hierarchical structures and group power gave them an edge. It’s interesting to see the trend take a new direction once you consider the historical context.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

The Case of Scholarship.

My working definition of a professional scholar is someone who has read hundreds of books in the field he claims to be professional in, and who has written reading notes or book reviews of everything as he went along, to fix it all in his mind. In academia, that is known as “studying for Comps.” This gives him a real sense of what has been done in the field. It produces a certain immunity to ideology, an ability to spot a one-sided tale. I was told in graduate school that the purpose of making us read all these books was that we would become allergic to reading more books, and head straight for the primary sources, the actual evidence. If I recall correctly, the man who told me that was not strictly an ivory tower type– he was also a Navy Lieutenant-Commander (Intelligence).

An archetypal public intellectual, someone like Barbara Tuchman or James Fallows, tends to plunge into a subject without this kind of background, digging more or less rapidly for the particular subjects he or she wants to write about this week or this month. Occasionally, this can work well: for example, Fallows has lived for a good many years in Japan and China, and his writing about China is very fine. He’s not a conventional orientalist, and I doubt he’d be well suited to writing about the Han dynasty, but he has spent a lot of time rubbing shoulders with ordinary Chinese. However, when Fallows writes about technology, another of his enthusiasms, he is usually writing from a weak command of the underlying principles. If you look at Tuchman’s _A Distant Mirror_, about the fourteenth century, an awful lot of it is mere regurgitation of Froissart’s Chronicles, and this becomes apparent once you have read Froissart. Tuchman was not a medievalist– she only played one on television.

Access to the necessary books to study for Comps has never been a crucial issue. You did have to live in sufficient proximity to a large library of a million volumes, typically a university library, but also one of a small number of large municipal libraries, that you could go in every couple of days, and change your books. Given that condition, however, you could get by quite handily with a freshman’s library privileges. You read a great many books, but you didn’t have them all out at once. You could buy a library card at a state university library for, oh, fifty dollars a year. When I lived in Philadelphia, in the early 1990’s, I had a library card at the University of Pennsylvania library, and that was more expensive, about three hundred dollars a year. A million-volume library would have collections of books in many, many more fields than the school had professors. Nowadays, this kind of book can almost always be bought used on Amazon, for an average of ten dollars. Comps-reading might involve spending a thousand dollars a year on books.

In the case of things which did not circulate– typically articles in bound journals, you were expected to make your own photocopies, and this could be physically laborious. Nowadays, small cameras make it easier to make copies of everything. It is much easier to turn the page than to pick a book up, turn it over, turn the page, and turn the book over again, and place it back on the copier. This applies in spades when things have been bound into volumes the size of a telephone book.

Another definition of a professional scholar– a related one– is someone who chases after the original evidence, rather than working from secondary sources. Here the internet has changed things more importantly. Archives have taken to publishing their original documents on the internet, rather than running reading rooms. Specifically, they have published photographic images of the documents on the internet. The potential copyright issues are usually practically less difficult than those involved with books. Again, the hallmark of a professional scholar is that he reads huge quantities of primary sources which have no immediate relevance to what he is writing. A good scholar develops all kinds of pockets of improbable knowledge.

Search engines are not quite the short-cut to learning that some people think they are. You have to read enough to know what it is that you are reading. Apart from anything else, language changes over time, and you need to read enough to know the right keywords. “A scholar’s duty is to read,” “hard labor makes royal roads.” Those aphorisms are still valid. I think one might say that the internet tends to weed out the nonscholarly business incidental to scholarship (which includes, for example, riding on a commuter train, and buying yourself a bologna sandwich with American cheese and mayonnaise from the vending machine in the library), but it does not change the conditions of scholarship itself very much. Scholars tend to be rather reclusive people who don’t much enjoy going to parties.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

A Further Comment, re my #60

The major limiting factor on the use of the internet for scholarship is copyright. The things which are scarcest are things which are not books. Books have traditionally been manufactured in compact, solid bindings, and have been sold onto the used market. Scarcities tend to involve ephemeral matter, for example, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, etc., which have a tendency to be discarded after the first reading. The used market does not work very well for ephemeral matter.Used book dealers simply will not take piles of newspapers and magazines. To a much greater extent than for books, the scholar is obliged to use official reprint collections, such as University Microfilms, and the act of reprinting, or photographing on microfilm, involves copyright. The nature of ephemeral matter is that it tends to contain a little bit of material written by one person, what he could write in a day or less, and a little material written by a second person, and so on. Thus the content of newspapers is more or less inherently “works for hire.”

The Framers knew about “works for hire.” It was a common practice for pamphleteers to write a pamphlet, go to a printer, and sell the pamphlet outright. Eighteenth-century newspapers had Letters to the Editor, just as newspapers have now. Now, the terms of the 1709 Statute of Queen Anne and the American Copyright Act of 1790 made it quite clear that corporate copyright, that is, copyright detached from the personality of the author, was not to last for more than fourteen years. In a case where the author sold the work before filing for copyright himself, there was to be no copyright at all. If, after obtaining a copyright for a term of fourteen years, the author sold the copyright, this did not convey the right to renew the copyright. The right of renewal remained with the author, if he were still alive. Obviously, the Framers had collective memories of the Stationers Company. They intended to make it very hard for a corporate entity to engross copyrights. A reasonable reading of the intention of the framers is that they did not intend to allow copyright protection of newspapers and magazines, short of someone actually “mirroring” newspaper or magazine in approximately real-time. Ephemeral writings were supposed to have equally ephemeral copy-protection. If a printer’s apprentice habitually smuggled copy out the back door, and gave it to a rival printer, that could be dealt with by stopping the leak, ie. either whipping or firing the apprentice.

Newspapers and magazines are commonly sold by subscription. One pays a month in advance, or a year, or two years, or five years, in exchange for whatever the editor may discover and choose to put in the paper. If the paper goes out of business, or the publisher simply ceases to publish one of his papers, the readers have very little recourse for the unexpended portions of their subscriptions. Under the circumstances, the editor really doesn’t need copyright protection, and the author, having sold the work outright, doesn’t get it in any case.


Here is a rather comic example of pamphlet economics, taken from Samuel Johnson’s _Life of Richard Savage_:

“[31] [Richard Savage] was once desired by Sir Richard, with an air of the utmost importance, to come very early to his house the next morning. Mr. Savage came as he had promised, found the chariot at the door, and Sir Richard waiting for him, and ready to go out. What was intended, and whither they were to go, Savage could not conjecture, and was not willing to inquire, but immediately seated himself with Sir Richard; the coachman was ordered to drive, and they hurried with the utmost expedition to Hyde-Park Corner, where they stopped at a petty tavern, and retired to a private room. Sir Richard then informed him that he intended to publish a pamphlet, and that he had desired him to come thither that he might write [ie. take dictation] for him. They soon sat down to the work. Sir Richard dictated, and Savage wrote, till the dinner that had been ordered was put upon the table. Savage was surprised at the meanness of the entertainment, and after some hesitation ventured to ask for wine, which Sir Richard, not without reluctance, ordered to be brought. They then finished their dinner, and proceeded in their pamphlet, which they concluded in the afternoon.”

“[32] Mr. Savage then imagined his task over, and expected that Sir Richard would call for the reckoning, and return home; but his expectations deceived him, for Sir Richard told him that he was without money, and that the pamphlet must be sold before the dinner could be paid for; and Savage was therefore obliged to go and offer their new production to sale for two guineas, which with some difficulty he obtained. Sir Richard then returned home, having retired that day only to avoid his creditors, and composed the pamphlet only to discharge his reckoning.”

Hat Tip: Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes.

David LaRosa (user link) says:


Great article about the ‘Professional Amateur’ . Ironic that the people who are ‘in’ in this field feel that they don’t want to be inundated with ‘amateurs with low quality’. Has Hollywood looked at most of its films over the last decade??
How about turning on the radio and trying to find a good song? As an indie filmmaker I’m consistently amazed at the high level of quality I hear and see with indie music and indie film.
If I had to choose between a Hollywood slick production, with “actors” who are not present and more concerned about doing their shtick for the camera; directors who want to be celebrities instead of making quality work; and perfect sound and lighting OR a well acted, well directed, focused, quality film that has some lighting and sound that are not “Hollywood standards”, then I’d go with the indie film with heart.
Thank God for the equaling out of the playing field in this industry. Finally there is a way for the true talented cream to start to rise up and get some notice. That hasn’t happened since the initial indie film push in the mid 90’s.

Anonymous Coward says:


I do not know why you freetards always use him as an example…Holst was very much a professional musician, he played trombone in professional ensembles and was a very good teacher. Being a teacher and performer who also happened to write an orchestral suite doesn’t mean that is the work of a hobbyist. That would be like saying a doctor contributing to a medical journal is the work of a hobbyist because it’s not what they normally get paid to do. Someone like Ives is what you would consider an amateur…he did not compose music for money, but in his spare time outside of his insurance company job. So if you guys are gonna insist that a hobbyist that only has a few hours here and there can produce better work than people who do it at all hours as their career…at least use an example of an actual hobbyist! xD

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