Rise of the Content Creators

by Joel Friedlander on June 18, 2010 · 11 comments

Post image for Rise of the Content Creators

A lot of our culture works on the blockbuster model. You put out lots of books, or movies, or records, knowing that most will fail to repay your investment. But you don’t mind, because you only need that one blockbuster that delivers huge sales to fund the whole roulette game for another season.

In April, when Smashwords ebooks first appeared in Apple’s iBookstore, Mark Coker wrote: “Very few people in the publishing industry understand the profound implications of this. It’s not just about the iPad – it’s about how any author, anywhere in the world, can go from a Microsoft Word document to worldwide ebook store distribution in a matter of seconds or days.”

But the blockbuster model is under attack, especially in the online world. At first digitization was slow, affecting big culture and big media only peripherally. But by keeping the internet open, free, untaxed and mostly unregulated, the apparently innate desire of many people to produce content became a reality.

In May JA Konrath responded to a question on his blog: “The dominance of ebooks is coming. I have no doubt. But I always thought it was the readers who would lead the charge, based on cost and convenience. Now I’m starting to believe that the ones with the real power are the ones who should have had the power since the beginning of publishing. The ones who create the content in the first place.”


Every advance online has made content easier to create and easier to share. Just in the last couple of years it’s become mundane for a person to create a decent-looking video, write up a bunch of copy, create a podcast and post it all to the web, sharing it with anyone who cares to investigate it.

Ken Auletta, in his New Yorker piece in April, said: “Ultimately, Apple is in the device—not the content—business,” the Apple insider said. “Steve Jobs wants to make sure content people are his partner. Steve is in the I win/you win school. Jeff Bezos is in the I win/you lose school.

The growing mass of content creators exploded with the advent of easy-to-use social media. At the same time, books became digitized and reproducible in ways never before imagined. Tens of thousands of people are now taking over the publishing functions that have been tightly held for generations. Journalism, publishing, opinion, music, video, reviews, news are all open now, in a way they were never open before, to exploitation by an enterprising individual.

Frank Bell, in Entrepreneur (from the Microsoft Small Business Center): “Most of the fastest-growing sites on the internet now are based on user-generated content. Their popularity has grown tremendously over the past couple years. There are many new opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs in this area. . . . Overall, user-generated content is creating a medium where masses can interact and has become an incredibly powerful force across the web.”

A latecomer to the party, I’ve been struck by how much the online world resembles my fantasy of the wild west. There are still huge swaths of land to stake out, competition is fierce, but opportunity is as big as it has ever been. Even the recession has played a role by creating demand for cheaper, digitized forms of content.

In June, James Woollam wrote on Futurebook:”For most non-fiction publishers much of our content will slice into smaller, more easily digested, pieces. If I think of a . . . craft book, they are mostly project-driven and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t slice into individual or grouped projects which could sell at a lower price point. It’s easy to see how this would apply in DIY, gardening, travel etc.”

We see people desperately trying to hold on to the old model. where hierarchies of interest and persuasion control access to media. No matter how this free-floating, fast-changing field changes, it seems unlikely the “people” are going to go back to being passive consumers of content.

In June, Michael Learmont wrote in Advertising Age Online: “David Eun, president of AOL’s media and studios division, said he had . . . come to one overarching conclusion: produce more content, faster.”

Will we get to some point, like the threatened Social Security Trust Fund, where there are so many people producing content on so many topics at every hour of the day, that there simply are not enough people left to actually read, watch, listen to the content. Is a lot of the content being created today going to go readerless?

According to BlogPulse today: “Total identfied blogs: 126,861,574 | New blogs in last 24 hours: 42,234 | Blog posts indexed in last 24 hours: 1,178,334″

Did you know that William Shakespeare, who was one of the most famous playwrights (content creators) of his day, and the most celebrated in history since his death, left not one manuscript in his own handwriting, perhaps only one convincing signature from his own hand, and not one authentic likeness?

And what about us? What new world of information are we creating with our content? Does what we say have a real reason for being said?

I think a lot of it does. My father was a master compositor, a journeyman printer. I can close my eyes and watch his square, capable hands nudge a piece of brass 1/72″ of an inch thick into position next to a line of type, watch him lock up a form that looked like a 3rd-grader’s construction project, yet hummed like a tuning fork when he struck it with his battered quoin key, ready to go on press. He could handle paper, jog and score it perfectly each time. He had many skills—but he passed away. Like most of the people who’ve come before us, all the accumulated wisdom went with him.

If all we do is leave a record of what we know, what we know how to do really well, I think we will have done a good thing.

But first, tell me what you think of this outpouring of content, what do you think of it?

Takeaway: The digitization of culture and the democritization of content are changing our world in radical ways. Culture and media will change with the onslaught of content and content creators.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkendall/

Be Sociable, Share!

    { 8 comments… read them below or add one }

    Bill Cunningham June 18, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Joel –

    Here is the link to the Inc. Magazine article I alluded to earlier:
    http://www.inc.com/magazine/20080601/the-customer-is-the-company.html

    Threadless is an example of the sort of creative community that in many ways points the way. I think this could be applied to the new writing process/community as it currently works for television writing (The Writer’s Room model) and it used to work for the old pulp publishing model where an editor worked with a writer or writers from a character template set up by the publisher. Example: THE SPIDER or DOC SAVAGE – both of which came about through a mandate from the publisher who came up with the initial idea.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 18, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks, Bill. All these models are really interesting now that we have such fluid ways to connect. I’ll check out the article.

    Reply

    Michele DeFilippo June 18, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Great post, Joel. Your research and comments are always worth reading.

    “Onslaught of content” is an apt phrase. I welcome the ability to go online and learn about anything, but at the same time, I dread the experience, because it’s impossible to verify that the information is accurate or even up to date.

    This new digital “library” is not a place to find fact-checked and edited, organized books, or chat with a helpful librarian who can share other avenues for research, but a vast warehouse where unedited manuscripts are piled to the ceiling without so much as a card catalog.

    As readers are boomeranged from site to site and link to link, how do we decide who to believe? By the design of the blog? Do we find the blog at all only because the author is a prolific poster that happens to rise to the top of search results?

    The burden on the content consumer has increased a thousandfold, as has the burden on the content writer who truly is a “quiet” expert, who now can’t be found in the deluge.

    Looking back to the day when I could buy one large book and learn everything I needed to know about a computer application, the experience seems so…peaceful…compared to how we learn today.

    I suspect (and hope) that someone smart will listen to the frustrations expressed by so many people and invent a better way. We need to combine the benefit of unlimited information tempered with verification, so we can all get what we need.

    Michele DeFilippo
    1106 Design
    Your book. Designed. With hand holding.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 18, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Hey Michelle, thanks so much. Remember when Google was new, and it was astonishing how they could find all the results you wanted so quickly? It seemed a blessing but now, looking at Google results, it’s obvious that we need a different way to search, one that combines search with filters that are intelligent, tunable and user-controlled. Content will continue to pile up, it’s inevitable. Besides all the content creators, much of the content of history is also moving online. So we have to become better at filtering ourselves, until that “silver bullet” arrives—the one that knows our habits so well, or is so flexible and intelligent that it returns only the results that will be really useful, not 44,923,943 websites. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Reply

    David Hutchison September 9, 2011 at 1:58 am

    Hi Michele, Joel,
    Interesting discussion.
    Universities now accept references from Wikipedia ( with date accessed) instead of/as well as journals for academic papers.
    I think Wikipedia is a good example of where the content is verified by the content creators. If a fact is wrong it is quickly corrected and so called facts have the “citation needed” warning.
    It throws up the question is something true because most people say it is? and for how long is it true?
    By the way I used Lulu to publish my children’s book.
    yours
    David Hutchison
    http://www.stormhags.co.uk

    Reply

    Akhil March 27, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Albateh keh baraye amasle Ruzbeh fahm va darke sohbathaye Maryam Rajavi sakht ast, Chape iran cheh as ghomashe khatte 1 v1 2 3 hichvaght sisat ra nafahmid va hamisheh rast zad va ya chap.Aghaye Ruzbeh, agar faghat beh mozegiriha va az jomleh khodetan nehah konid mifahmid????? keh chizy taghier kardeh

    Reply

    Bill Cunningham June 18, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Joel –

    There is no doubt we are at a flashpoint in our creative culture. I liken it to the pulp publishing revolution of the 1920’s – faster, more and cheaper – where a diversity of interests were served by a variety of genre literary magazines. In this digital age however, i think we are approaching the point where ‘the customer is the company’ (to borrow from an INC. Magazine article of the same name).

    We will have groups of like-minded creators banding together to serve themselves and a readership (not everyone wants to write) carving their own profitable niche. We will see the rise of social networks that act as audience response and production mechanism that will later be monetized.

    Imagine joining a website that allowed you to contribute stories and/or artwork for the readership of that site to vote on. The best of the best going to print and e-collections or merchandised and licensed in other ways. That’s just one of the possibilities we can embrace. Who knows how the Ipad will change the creative workflow of storytelling?

    We live in interesting times…

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 18, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Bill, yes, we live in interesting times. Maybe not that peaceful, or predictable, but interesting. I like your vision of the “content communities” and I wonder if that hasn’t been going on somewhere. Communities do grow up around niche content, so there are models we can look at that might prove predictive.

    Love your pulp stuff, Bill. Good luck with the book.

    Reply

    Leave a Comment


    6 + = ten

    { 3 trackbacks }