Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Indie Era

Many readers of my Facebook page know that, in recent weeks, I've been beating the drum about two topics: self-publishing, and the new "Atlas Shrugged" movie. Here, I'd like to draw some connections between the two topics that may not be readily apparent.

Both are "indie" enterprises. Both are succeeding in the face of entrenched establishments. Both are possible today -- for the first time in history -- because of the confluence of two factors: affordable technology and free markets. 

And this is having revolutionary consequences in our economy and culture.

"Do-it-yourself" publishing and film-production technology has become so affordable that individuals and small groups can now create works of a quality equal to that produced by giant corporations. And it has also allowed them to market their wares on an almost equal footing, too. One of the greatest marketing equalizers, for indie authors and filmmakers alike, has been the Internet. The chief advantages that big corporations traditionally have offered to authors and to filmmakers is a giant pool of capital to market their creations to the public. But individual artists, simply by going "viral" with free, targeted online publicity (blogs, websites, social networking, YouTube, links, etc.), are able to neutralize many of the marketing advantages traditionally held by major publishers and Hollywood studios. In fact, they are able to target niche audiences that big corporations frequently overlook.

Moreover, corporations are bureaucracies, with all the lumbering inefficiencies, group-think, timidity, and inertia you find in any large institutions. They take forever to make decisions, and those decisions are usually made by committee and consensus. In other words, they are safe, don't-rock-the-boat decisions that avoid "outside the box" thinking and innovation. By contrast, individuals can respond quickly, decisively, and creatively to seize emerging opportunities, without having to go through channels, ask permissions, fill out paperwork, or pound the table to convince alleged superiors of The Obvious.

An apt military analogy to the competitive marketplace would be "asymmetrical warfare," where small, irregular, guerrilla forces use speed, stealth, and nimble tactics to outmaneuver their much larger, better equipped adversaries.

The world of publishing is being rocked by such tactics. The rise of upstart Amazon.com as an online book retailer has put formerly gigantic, thriving brick-and-mortar bookstore chains on the ropes. And now that Amazon has entered the publishing business with ebooks, it is beginning to threaten the giant publishing houses, too, competing with them for authors, even as it is eliminating their sales outlets (bookstores). In doing so, Amazon and other online publishers are providing platforms where individual authors can now inexpensively and successfully self-publish and market their own works, without the acceptance or support of traditional gatekeepers: agents, the publishing houses, and bookstores.

We're seeing the same thing with the rise of "indie films," such as "Atlas Shrugged." That movie was self-financed, then self-promoted via free publicity online, going "viral" through sympathetic talk-show hosts, columnists, and clever niche marketing to Tea Party groups and other sympathetic demographic segments. This eliminated the need to buy prohibitively expensive traditional media advertising. It then was released by hiring a small, independent distributor to cobble together a network of individual theaters across the country.

In both cases -- self-publishing and indie film production -- the same two factors are making success possible: free market competition and affordable technology. And in both cases, perhaps the greatest benefit for the artists in going it alone is creative independence. Today's author does not have to hew to the latest editorial fashions and fads of the Big 6 publishers, who look to yesterday's bestsellers to make decisions about what to publish tomorrow. Likewise, the "Atlas Shrugged" filmmakers did not have to water down Ayn Rand's controversial ideas to accommodate the Politically Correct sensitivities of leftist Hollywood screenwriters, actors and actresses, studio bosses, and financiers.

Thanks to markets and technology, we are entering the Indie Era: a time where individuals, operating independently, can challenge behemoth institutions and succeed, both financially and creatively. It is a time of unprecedented opportunities for anyone who has what it takes.

And what it takes, more than anything else, is a spirit of entrepreneurial self-responsibility. That is the spirit which built America. It is the spirit that can save it.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article! I would submit that the music industry has experienced the same thing. Some musicians have demanded the attention of the big labels by gaining millions of iTunes hits through their own savvy marketing. Others have igno...red offers from Big Boys and are pitching music straight to film and tv. Cutting out the middle man, in the latter cases, not only means all profits go straight to the musician's pocket, but also that they are not bound by the industry's often ridiculous standards (lie about your age, pretend you're not married, show a lot more skin, honey).
The difficulty for indies, of course, regardless of media type, is that the market is flooded! and it can be a real challenge to get attention for your art in a sea of readily available choices.... So far, I have not found any shortcuts or quick fixes to this issue - some gain this attention via shock value or name dropping or both. I think that an intelligent and careful building of a loving fan base, even if it isn't huge, is any artist's best bet. At the end of the day, people like to feel listened to and taken care of, so the artist/writer/filmmaker/whatever that truly cares about their audience and tries to meet their desires is the one who will have lasting success.

Robert Bidinotto said...

Absolutely. You are dead-on right about this, Rose. Your own music is completely fresh and unique, and I can only imagine how you'd have to homogenize yourself and stifle your creativity if you were trying to win the favor of a Big Label. I... am definitely part of that "loving fan base" for your work.

Folks, if you've not yet heard Rose Robbins's music, DO. I have her album "Close Your Eyes," and it's terrific, as is her more recent work.

Go here and sample.

Then, go here and buy.

Dymphna said...

Glad you sent a notice about being back to blogging.

Robert Bidinotto said...

Welcome, Dymphna, and thanks for your interest. Let's see if I can hold it!

Jason Pappas said...

Good to see you back in action. I also read that WSJ article today and sent it to a good friend. I'll have him visit your blog; that should encourage him to finish his novel and go "indie."

Robert Bidinotto said...

And glad to have you aboard here, Jason. Thanks for the well-wishing. I hope your friend decides to jump into the stream and start panning; there's gold in them thar hills.