Yesterday I put up a post discussing the how of the Indie Revolution, so if you want an in depth examination of how the Indie Revolution happened, then check it out.
Now for the why. Obviously part of the why is because of the Digital Revolution. Had the Digital Revolution not occurred, or had it been a fringe movement, then I doubt we’d be having this conversation. Hell, I probably wouldn’t have this blog, and you wonderful people wouldn’t be reading my words. Simple as that. There’s another question though, why did artists jump on board? Just because the technology is there doesn’t automatically mean people are going to embrace it. And why did readers, watchers, listeners, and players embrace the new art?
1. Democracy & Free Market in Action
I’ll be the first to point out the flaws in democracy, and the glaring problems with a free market system, but there are definite positives to each one. Assuming that you live in a country that applauds the democratic process, and the power of the consumer, then this next part will make sense. Independent art is a cultural affirmation of democracy and free trade. It doesn’t rely on publishing houses, record labels, established film studios, or tremendous game publishers, it relies on two things: the artist(s) and the audience. There is no filtering process, deciding what is “right” to be consumed, or what is profitable. If any “filtering process” exists it is through the people voting with their dollars and cents, through the people pushing a book, or a video game, or a movie, or an album to the top of the charts. This Indie Revolution is the next logical step for culture in a free society. Sure, the publishing houses, game publishers, movie studios, and record labels will continue to exist well into the future. Their duty will change, in a word, the death of the “slush pile.” Instead of waiting for artists to come to them for validation, they will go to the artists to see which works are already popular, then give those works a boost.
2. The End of Censorship
Censorship, it seems like a funny concept in any country that believes in free speech and free expression. Now, I understand that there are limits, there are always limits, and the limits that exist in law tend to make sense. I’m not talking about the legal exceptions to free speech though, I’m talking about the arbitrary rules that exist to keep “inappropriate material” out of the hands of children, as well as the indirect censorship employed by publishers of art. I’ll keep it brief, but the direct form of censorship is through bodies like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA; film), the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB; video games), the Parental Advisory label (music), and the TV Parental Guidelines (for TV, of course). These ratings systems can have legal power (for example, “R” rated movies and “M” rated games can only be sold to people who are at least 17 years old). Other times, the ratings can influence what material a distributor chooses to sell, which is a more indirect form of censorship. If the stores in your area choose not to carry a certain movie, album, or video game then your selection is limited. I’m just thankful that formal censorship of books has yet to exist, but boy are some people trying! Enter the internet. Enter independent art. If you intend to produce your art on your own and distribute it on a digital platform then you aren’t as beholden to censorship. Has the internet become an artists’ utopia? Not quite, but it’s a helluva lot better than how it used to be. In some cases, censorship of content still exists on the internet, but the wonderful thing about the internet is if one site decides to break out the jack boots and starts with the goosestepping, then another website will pop up to compete. As much as parent groups and the thin-skinned whine about “inappropriate” or “offensive” content, most reasonable adults welcome the shocking notion that people with free will can indeed make their own decisions about what to consume. Without the “gatekeepers” wringing their hands over whether or not something is too “controversial” to turn a profit, artists are able to experiment with styles and ideas.
3. A Fair Exchange
When I buy someone’s art, whether it’s a book, or a movie, or a video game, or an album, I’d like to think that the people that did the work get compensated for it. Artists still make money off of their creations, but a large portion of the proceeds goes to the people responsible for publishing the work. I would understand a 50/50 split, hell, I’d even understand a 60/40 split, but most royalties are dismal. The Indie Revolution has changed that and allows artists to receive most of the profits. Since writing is my MO, I’ll use that as the example for this point, however the main idea covers all areas of art. If I write a book and sell it on Amazon then I’m entitled to either 35% or 70% royalties depending on how much I price the book (less than $2.99 and you get 35%, $2.99 and up and you get 70%). The average royalty for a traditionally published book is around 15%, and no higher than 25%. With independent art you know that when you’re buying material the majority of the money is going to the person responsible for creating it. That seems reasonable, right? Why do consumers care though? This is pure speculation and opinion, but I think a lot of it has to do with the economic frustrations of our time. If I do most of the work, why should someone else get most of the money for my work? Why should I give money to an organization that doesn’t pay its workers well? Why shouldn’t the new people get a chance at success? These are the questions that drive the artists and the consumers to turn to independent channels. It’s not because people hate established writers, musicians, filmmakers, or video game developers, but I think it has to do with people being more conscious about workers’ rights (and artists are workers) and where their money is going. Or I have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s also a possibility.
4. It’s Cheaper!
Speaking as an American, I love to buy things. I love my local library, I love sharing things with friends, but there is some kind of bizarre catharsis that comes from buying things. Buying things costs money, and art is not cheap. Secondhand stores are good for buying cheap media, but I tend to feel a little guilty buying a used book (for example) if the writer is still alive. The problem is new copies tend to be costly, which means you are limited in the number of different copies you can buy. The upside with independently produced art is it tends to be cheaper. For the cost of a mass-market paperback I could buy three to ten self published books. Some might argue that you’re paying for quality, and I can’t argue with that, but at the same time I’d rather pay $10 for a handful of books on the chance that I hate one, than $10 on one book that I wind up hating. The same applies for music, movies, and video games. You can get more material for less money with less of a risk. If I buy three, $20 indie games and I hate one, then that’s better than spending $60 on one terrible game. We like to consume, I like to consume, but I also like to get as much bang for my buck as possible. Independent art makes that possible.
There are downsides to the Indie Revolution, and despite loving what it’s doing for culture there are problems. The biggest issue is mass competition. How do you make your work stand out from the rest? That’s always the biggest issue when advertising something, and it has become an even bigger question when it comes to independent art since now you’re not only competing with people in your area, or even your country, but on a global scale. Another concern is with quality. I’m not talking about the content, since that is wildly subjective, but the stylistic and technical side of things. Using books as an example: what if a good idea is riddled with plot holes, wooden characters, and grammatical errors? It detracts from the quality of the story. With independent art there is no process to make a decent piece into a great one. Fortunately, I think most artists realize this and at the very least have a beta audience to give them honest feedback. The third major downside to the Indie Revolution is the concern that the “common people” don’t have the capacity to shape culture. At first glance I can see how that is a concern, except, allow me to direct your attention to William Shakespeare. A veritable cultural god. His work is immortal, and considered the greatest example of the English language. You know what? He wrote for the common people. Richard III and Henry V were propaganda/war pieces, Romeo & Juliet is a love story/gang drama, Hamlet and Macbeth are family dramas/political thrillers, and most of his comedies would be considered romantic-comedies by today’s standards since they all have happy endings and are filled with dirty jokes (we just don’t “get” them). His work rose to popularity thanks to the “commoners,” not in spite of them. The culture that survives tends to be popular culture. That’s not to say academic or “high-minded” culture doesn’t stand the test of time, but the work that is remembered 100, 200, or 500 years after its creation is pop culture.
Check back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion to this series: Part 3: Judgment Call.
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Thanks for reading, and I hope you stick around.