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.

My April 15, 2011 "Tea Party" Address

My talk before the "TEA PARTY ON THE BAY," April 15, Grasonville, MD, sponsored by the Queen Anne's County of Americans for Prosperity.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

For too long, you and I have watched helplessly as a clique of politicians, intellectuals, activists, and bureaucrats from both parties have tried to obliterate our Constitution, our capitalist system, and our personal liberty.

This “bipartisan Ruling Class”—as scholar Angelo Codevilla describes it—sees itself as a moral, cultural, and intellectual elite. Oozing arrogance, viewing the rest of us as coarse, unsophisticated rubes who cling bitterly to guns and bibles, this class seeks to impose its own supposedly superior values and visions upon the rest of us, by force of law.

As we know too well, the ultimate goal of this Ruling Class is power. They exist—not to produce, not to invent, not to create—but to manipulate and master others. Ronald Reagan summed up their governing outlook this way: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

By contrast, the rest of us Americans seek power over circumstances—not over each other. We acquire our personal sense of identity and self-esteem through productive work—not through imposing our values and visions on our neighbors. We accept a “live and let live” philosophy.

This is the spirit embodied in our “Declaration of Independence.” That document was more than a declaration of political independence from our European rulers; it was a declaration of the moral independence of every human being. It was a declaration of each individual’s moral right to his own life, his own liberty, his own pursuit of happiness.

This is the vision enshrined in our Constitution. That document grants to public officials only specific, enumerated, and narrowly limited powers. As James Madison and the Framers made clear, their goal was to bridle the power of government, in order to protect our moral right to go about our lives without interference. So the Constitution imposes upon officials a host of constraints: separations of powers, checks and balances, the Bill of Rights. By constraining government, we enjoy the fruits of freedom.

And this explains why, since the early twentieth-century Progressive Era, Ruling Class power-seekers have targeted the Constitution for annihilation.

These grandees aim to impose their wisdom and good taste upon us by force of law—telling us what to eat, what vehicles we should travel in, what fuels should power them, where our thermostats should be set, how we should use our land, what our children should be taught, what we may buy, sell, to whom, and at what prices, what earnings we may keep, what causes we must support, what medical coverage we must have—and on, and on.

It goes on without limit, because the Ruling Class accepts no limits, legal or moral, on its power to “do good” to us. Like missionaries visiting primitive tribes, they view us as savages, whom they must cage and civilize.

We see their boundless arrogance in Nancy Pelosi, who—when asked where in the Constitution was Congress granted the power to order us to buy health insurance—replied: “Are you serious?”

We see it in Barney Frank, the only human on the planet who is able to strut while sitting down.

We see it in Barack Obama, who tells his fellow Ruling Class members that “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” with his nose held so high in the air that any passing rainstorm would waterboard him.

Ruling Class programs have plundered trillions from makers, then handed it to takers—supposedly to eradicate poverty, to end unemployment, to prevent disastrous business cycles, to put everyone in his own home. But what do we see? Record levels of people on food stamps; soaring unemployment; a recession longer and deeper than any since the 1930s; a debacle in the housing market. Yet, in response, the Ruling Class demands more power to enact more of the same.

But their excesses have provoked a great awakening. Millions like you now champion the cause of free markets and individual liberty.

Our job began last November 2nd. Now, we have a cultural legacy to reclaim—a legacy often described as American individualism.

From our nation’s earliest days, when our pioneer ancestors blazed trails through forbidding frontiers, we Americans have never viewed ourselves as victims of circumstances. Fiercely self-assertive, proudly independent, we, more than any other people on earth, view ourselves as masters of our fates, as captains of our souls.

The spirit of American individualism inspired the Founders to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of personal liberty.

Now is our moment. So, in the words of Washington, let us continue in the months and years ahead to raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.

Thank you.