Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ignite recap

I'm sitting in a darkened hotel room right now. Melissa is off somewhere having dinner with some of her family. Oscar is asleep just a few paces from me and I have nothing but time on my hands. These are the moments I find to write in now. It's not a bad life.


Last Thursday, the 18th of June, I spoke as part of Salem's first ever Ignite event. Twelve speakers, each with five minutes to declaim on any topic of their choosing. Each also had to have a 20-slide Power Point presentation to play behind them. It was a fun and interesting night. The topics were varied and some down right intrigued me, but the best part of the night was meeting some of the other presenters.


This being the first such event in town, there were some technical glitches. I think only about half of my slides played behind me, but it was still worthwhile. I spoke about a subject I've been thinking about a lot lately, using the Internet as a content delivery system. I've written about this topic on this blog on more than one occasion. Basically, I'm trying to talk myself into it and using this public forum to state my intention is one way to do that.


I thought that my talk might be of interest to someone out there, so here it is. (And please note that I am not subjecting you to my PP slides, but I will sometimes break from the main body of the text and tell you some of the information that was on them.)



My attitudes about New versus Old Media can be summed up with this analogy:


Old Media are the Roman Empire. New Media are the Visigoths.


Which basically means that while Old Media isn’t dying, its power is waning and becoming decentralized. It also means that New Media isn’t necessarily the thing that will replace it, but it is making everything messy and interesting.


What this means ultimately is that things are in disarray and that individuals who want to create something and get it in front of an audience can use this to their advantage.


Provided they have something to say. I chose to characterize that something to say as an obsession in the title of my talk for a reason. It’s not enough to just want to make something, and it’s certainly not enough to want to make the same old things that have been under construction for the last 50 to 100 years. You have to want to make something new and personal.


Creating art of any kind may be fun, but it’s also a slog. And it can often feel like a curse, because it is something you feel compelled to do no matter what.


"All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

George Orwell


So, let’s say you are so compelled. You’re creating art, you’d like to have it seen by an audience. For various reason (such as how hard it is to break into established media, having to give up editorial control over your work, sometimes having to give up ownership), you decide that Old Media is not the avenue you want to pursue to get it seen. Maybe you want to give this Internet thing a try?


There are a lot of folks out there already using the Internet to broadcast their stories. But there are even more people out there who are waiting for new content. A recent study by the Harvard Business Review looked at the microblogging site, Twitter.com, and found that 90% of it’s content was generated by just 10% of its users. And it’s probably a similar story with the rest of the Internet.


There are an estimated 251 million households with Internet access in America. Using the 90/10 formula (which I realize is a gross over-generalization, but I’m going to do it anyway), that means that 2.5 million households are generating most of the content on the web and more than 240 million are consuming it. This is an amazingly large potential audience.


Of course, no one is going to attract the attention of all of those users. The most successful will only be seen by a small percentage of them, and how will they attract and keep those folks’ attention? By, again having something to say, by having an obsession.


Those entities that are already on the web attracting an audience are doing so because they have a clear, strong theme running through their work. Some examples of this are on the slides behind me.


But if these folks, or you for that matter, hope to make any money out of these endeavors, just putting your stuff up on the Internet isn’t enough. One of the advantages of Old Media is they have all these people and department in place to take your work and design, print, market and sell it. In the New Media, you get to do all of that. Seriously, keep your day job for a while.


On the screen behind me, six examples of web sites I feel succeed in the New Media model of content delivery flashed by. Those sites were:

Penny Arcade

Hark a Vagrant

Overcompensating

Diesel Sweeties

Katie West

Wondermark


All of the examples flashing behind me have found ways to monetize their work. They print or otherwise collect them and sell them, yes, but they also create merchandise, some of them are absolute monsters when it comes to publicity. They maintain presences outside of their own web sites. It sounds an awful lot like work.


“I think the growth of the business has been directly geared to my ability to take the whole endeavor more and more seriously. In other words, approaching the work like a professional has made it into a profession -- the attitude always comes first.”

David Malki!

creator of Wondermark.com


But the advantage of this method would be total ownership of what you create and total creative control(two things that are hard to come by in the world of traditional comics publishing at least). But with total control comes total responsibility.


I’m bringing this all up because I think it’s part of the obsession , too. You have something you want to say, and you want to say it so badly you’re willing to take on all of this enormous load of work to get it out there and make sure people see it. But if you can do all of this, an audience will find you. Then it’s up to your talent to keep those folks interested.


My area of interest is comics and I’ve focused most of my talk on that, but what I’m talking about can be applied to number of disciplines. There are any number of free blogging sites out there, each of which is better at certain things. You could publish fiction, poetry, memoirs, photo galleries. You can make videos and post them to youtube or vimeo. Record songs and throw put them up for everyone to see. The potential of the Internet as a means to get your work seen reminds me of ‘zine culture times about a million.


And there’s one more thing I feel compelled to mention. I decided to make this the topic on which I’d talk mostly because I’ve been thinking about taking the plunge into the world of New Media myself. Despite some success in the world of traditional comics publishing, I’ve been feeling a certain disappointment with many of the processes involved in it. I’m thinking about putting my money where my mouth is and joining the ranks of entrepreneurs on the web. All I need is to convince some artists that they need to come along with me.


All I need is to find some folks with a similar obsession.

1 comment:

Charles Pergiel said...

Welcome to the dark side, grasshopper.

I don't know where this internet thing is going either, but it gives me a place to write stuff down. I think one or two other people actually read it.

I liked your comment about the Romans and the Visigoths.