Over the past few days I have published a collection of posts about publishing, specifically talking about the rise of self publishing. Labor Day seemed like a good time to talk about the Indie Revolution since it’s art produced by “the People” and approved by “the People.” Or something like that… Don’t worry, I’m not going to retread the same ground, and repeat myself and repeat myself and repeat myself and-
…that was an attempt at a joke.
I won’t necessarily talk solely about self publishing again, but instead go for a more holistic approach and discuss the rise of independent art in general, including film, music, and video games on top of books.
So what caused this Indie Revolution anyway? Let’s take a look at the how.
1. The Digital Age
Independent art isn’t anything new. When it was limited to books, music, and film, artists were producing and publishing material on their own. It was expensive, it was slow, and your distribution was limited. Enter the internet and digital technology. Faster internet, widespread internet, and cheap internet made connecting with the world affordable and simple. Compact, accessible, and (again) cheap digital technology allowed for creatives to, well, create from the comfort of their living room. In theory, I could write, edit, and publish a book wearing my pajamas and sitting in bed. Not in one sitting, of course, but…well you get it. You can thank WiFi and super-efficient laptops for that. What about film, music, and video games? Again, the barrier of entry is much lower than it was even ten years ago. Want to record a demo tape? All you need is the recording software, a microphone, and your instrument of choice. Want to make a movie? All you need is a camera, some editing software, and people. Want to make a video game? Again, all you need is the software and (maybe) some extra people and you’re on your way. This is not to make any of this sound easy. You can’t just press a button and BAM, you have a product, you still need talent, patience, and determination, but this definitely makes the process easier than it used to be.
2. “Like my/our page!”
I’ll be the first to grumble and moan about the cons of social media, but if there’s one good thing about social media, it’s that people can market and distribute their products for free (well, you still need the internet subscription, but there’s no additional cost). A musician/band, a writer, a director, or a video game developer could start a Facebook page, and a WordPress site (thanks WordPress!), a YouTube channel, and a Twitter account all for free, and generate publicity for their creation(s) without ever relying on middlemen/women (Middle-persons? Middle-people? Ehhh…that sounds like something from a ’50s horror B-movie. “It’s the Middle-People!” cue screams of terror). My point is, social media has made promotion available for anyone and everyone. Just from my own experience, if I didn’t have WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook, I would have a much harder time of getting my writing out there and introducing people to my work.
3. Digital Distribution
Remember how the only place you could go to buy a piece of art was an actual building? Then the internet came along and changed that. I’ll be the first to rave about the joys of going into an actual brick-and-mortar store to look at books, movies, albums, and video games. There is a tactile pleasure in picking up, examining, and ultimately purchasing a piece of art. You can then take it home and proudly display it for all of the world to see (or at least your bored friends and family). If you could produce and promote your material without the means to distribute it then you’re up the Ol’ Poop Creek nary a paddle in sight. Services like Steam (for video games), SoundCloud (for music), Amazon/Kobo/Nook (for books), and YouTube (for film) make it possible for independent artists to distribute their material and make a profit. (Note: I know these aren’t the only digital distributors, they’re just the first that came to mind.) In the “old days” the only way an independent artist could hope to distribute their material was either on consignment at a local shop, at public events (like a concert), or out of the trunk of their car. These methods caused distribution to be limited, not profitable, and labor intensive. That isn’t to say independent artists still don’t work hard, but digital distribution makes the whole endeavor less headache-inducing.
I’d be lying if I told you there were absolutely no downsides to producing, distributing, and marketing your own material. I talked about “reach” and “following” in previous posts, so I won’t go over that again, but one major issue that I neglected to talk about is time spent on promotion versus time spent on creation. If you are taking care of everything then that means less time spent on creating. I don’t think I have to spell it out for you, but the short version is basically this: if the “traditional way” was using 75% of your energies on creating art, and 25% on promotion, now it’s more like a 50/50 split. Of course, this isn’t relegated to independent art. “Mainstream” artists are being forced to spend more time on brand-building too. Another problem with independent art is funding. With independent authors this issue is comparatively minimal, but since I’m talking about independent art as a whole then I can’t neglect this point. For example, a long, long time ago I thought I wanted to be a musician. For a while I had the luck of befriending a fellow musician with excellent recording hardware, then I had to bite the bullet and buy that hardware myself. It only cost me about $200, but you know what? I never made back that money. That’s not to reduce art to an investment/profit, but it’s still a factor worth considering especially if you’re on a budget. Full disclosure, I have no experience with independent film or video games, but I imagine it’s equally as difficult. Which is why I want to take this moment to salute anyone with the guts/insanity to undertake a major project like that essentially on their own. Still, even with these downsides, the Revolution holds a lot of promise both for creators and consumers.
Check back tomorrow for: Part 2: Why Did the Indie Revolution Happen?
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Thanks for reading, and I hope you stick around.