The Intersection of Innovation and Art: Looking at the Music and Book Industries (Revisited)


I’ve followed developments in the shifting landscape of content—the ways it’s created and the ways it’s utilized—with keen professional, as well as personal interest. During the last decade advancements that benefit both artists and consumers, have revolved around the democratization of content. What does that mean? In brief, it no longer requires complex and expensive technologies and processes to make and acquire works of art.

Today, just about anyone can publish a book, or make an album, and a lot of people are trying. Does this potentially flood the market with inferior product? Certainly. Does it also ensure that more artists have the opportunity to be heard and discovered? Without doubt.

The good news: with sufficient ability, awareness and time, anyone can publish without paying for it or surviving the scrutiny of hit-seeking middlemen. The bad news: as liberating as this new DIY ethos is, the onus is now entirely on the artist. That said, the Internet changed everything. In an analog world, DIY meant selling cassettes out of your car. Digital files put both the creation and dissemination into the hands of the artists, and the last decade has been a welcome departure from an archaic model and a lifeline for artists outside the so-called mainstream.

(A lot more on this topic and how it has pertained to my own endeavors, can be found HERE.)

Jamie Saft, a critically acclaimed musician who has appeared on dozens of albums, made the decision in 2007 to form his own label. Veal Records is now a vital independent source of music, allowing Saft to work with whomever he wishes and releasing whatever material he desires anytime he wants. Nevertheless, just because the tools exist for virtually anyone to do this, it takes more than talent and good luck. The new DIY ethos demands a proficiency at production, distribution and marketing. Social media provides a crucial marketing advantage, and the ease with which fans can connect and spread the word with potential fans is a major breakthrough.

The book publishing industry operated according to a fairly specific—and consistent—paradigm for hundreds of years. In the not-so-good old days, gatekeepers typically held sway, overseeing acquisition, creation and dissemination. Today, digital content is ubiquitous and hardware has been invented (think eReaders and tablets, even smartphones) that enables consumers to access identical material in myriad ways.Just like the music industry, book publishing has undergone a sea change. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems clear that the ways books were acquired and sold was a model ripe for disruption. Inevitably, the increased obsolescence of gatekeepers and tastemakers (see: traditional publishing houses and establishment critics) has resulted in blowback about “legitimacy.” Never mind the fact that Walt Whitman self-published his first poems, we typically don’t see similar bias against, say, family vineyards or craft breweries. As usual, those protesting loudest are the ones accustomed to owning the process and the lion’s share of the profits.
Richard Nash, who ran celebrated independent publisher Soft Skull Press for the better part of last decade, has been intimately involved with these progressions. His exposure to the way things used to work, the ways they changed, and the ways they still might evolve, affords him a unique and invaluable perspective. His primary interest involves what happens once the book comes to market, competing against the other inventory seeking an audience.The key takeaway? If you want it done, do it yourself. If you want it done well, understand and learn all the things you do not know. In halcyon times, writing a book was itself the hard part, and pretty much the only thing an author controlled. Too many authors had to hope that their publisher could generate sufficient enthusiasm, garner reviews, set up a book tour, etc. If that didn’t happen, there were few options other than luck or a miraculous endorsement from Oprah.Self-publishing is not the end, it’s only the beginning, according to Nash: an invitation to the party that needs an MC. Whether it’s the structured chaos of Amazon reviews to the more refined parameters of Goodreads, new services are enabling a crowd-based curation. The notion that likeminded readers can—and will—follow recommendations and then evangelize accordingly, might be the next stage in this evolution.



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