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.