Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Survival, the Interwebs, and Moses

Heidi McDonald over at the Beat (see links to the left) quotes this article on survival concerns of creative types in a free consumer market, the Net.
While it's hardly a new concern, this piece expresses it with admirable clarity.
There are two concerns here. The first concern is for the ethics of the situation. Why should a creator work for free, as the net audience tends to expect? The second concern, which directly relates, is the issues of survival in a free or low-cost per unit economy.
So the creator's concerns range from "this is wrong" to the inevitable "adapt or die".
It is in the latter that the future lies. I'd like to suggest that there's another possibility evolving.
In Reinventing Comics, Scott McCloud talks of the micro-economy for paid comic downloads. While it did not play out at the level McCloud anticipated, the options for print-on-demand have opened up distribution and micro-economies to creators in numerous but similar markets, ranging from Cafe' Press to Kablam and Indy Planet.
While these new markets have their downsides,  they do accomplish something wonderful. They afford the opportunity for anyone with Net access- 75% as of six years ago, and I think it's raised slightly and plateaued there for a while- to sell their wares. A variation on the old vanity press model.
The downside of this is that not everything that people put out is salable.
Another downside is that things are not vetted by the same publication cycle, which means you are your own editor.  Not always a wise choice.
Inevitably, an online presence and distribution model with a formal editing structure will evolve. It's begun through the majors already, and Dark Horse has been at the forefront of this process for years.
Jenni Gregory experimented with a creator-owned online publishing venture- doing POD for the books of others, which she edited- but it appears to have died, since her Dreamwalker book is now at IndyPlanet. 

Some creators, like Carla Speed Macneil, whose Finder I adore (site has been on low activity for a bit- hope all is well!), thrive in the online and self-publishing models, putting out trades after they've amassed a body of work. Tyler Page has had great critical and at least modest commercial success with his Nothing Better, a great read.
Needless to say, I've toyed with this idea for some of my own work from time to time.
But overall, the model will find its own direction. Similar models will evolve for musicians, photographers, writers, illustrators, possibly even sculptors, anyone with a creative endeavor to offer the world.
How long will it take?
It's already begun.
When Moses led the tribes out of Egypt, they wandered for 40 days and 40 nights. But according to many Judaic scholars, the days in that are a metaphor for years. The reason it took that long was that a generation had to come to maturity not knowing slavery to perceive freedom as real.
Along the same lines, as soon as a generation has grown expecting to remunerate creative people for their online work, and that work has an online vetting process that's matured the same way, the world will once again see such payments for creativity as real.
At least, as much as they did before, which is a topic for another day.