The awesome thing about living a life that spans two centuries is that I’ve lived enough in two major, different eras to have a personal understanding of a fairly big chunk of time. Add to that having studied history since college, particularly the 19th century, and, well, it provides a pretty sweet perspective. It goes without saying that we’ve evolved as a culture, but as with every evolutionary process, some rush forward and others lag behind.
The historian in me thinks that one day, in the 22nd or 23rd century, we’ll look back on this era as the time when the average person finally broke the bonds of the gatekeeper. Yes, signs of freedom are all over the place these days! Look at the way the book industry has changed. Look at the music industry and even now the tv and movie industry. We’re only just on the cusp of a radical shift in thinking as to how people receive their entertainment.
My personal experience of this is in the publishing world, of course. Just take a look at this article recently published at The Passive Voice about why the traditional publishing industry is so reluctant to reveal how much money authors make. The article is interesting, but dude, read the comments! Kensington CEO Steven Zacharius comes out swinging in defense of his way of doing things. Correct that, he comes out swinging in defense of the way the 20th century did things. Look at the hailstorm of response both he and the article got. If that’s not writing on the wall, I don’t know what is.
Delilah Marvelle posted a similar open letter to the same Steven Zacharius here.
You know me. I am an indie author and proud. I’m working my tail off to prove that self-published author can make a living and receive acclaim by doing thing their own way. I’m mixing things up, switching genres, forging new paths and taking less traveled ones, and I love it. And this, in my humble opinion, is what the 21st century way of doing things is all about.
It’s not just publishing either. The phenomenon of the micro-trend is a fascinating one to look at historically. Because we now have venues like YouTube, Viveo, and even iTunes, artists of all ilks can experiment, explore, create, and sell to a whole new kind of eclectic audience. I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about the rise of the niche market and the people who dive in to fulfill its needs (um, dinosaur porn comes to mind). And yeah, not all of the content being produced is any good, but is that really the point?
As far as I can see, the hallmark of 20th century entertainment was all about the big guy in the corner office—the gatekeeper. In order to publish, you had to be accepted by an editor (let alone an agent). In order to make a movie you had to sell to a producer. In order to exhibit art you had to get in with a gallery. The entire process was hierarchical and rigid. The number of venues available for those who did not fit into the narrow boxes dictated by The Man was severely limited.
The funny thing is, things actually weren’t like that back in the 19th century. Granted, you can’t compare apples to oranges and say the 19th century was more like the 21st. They are two drastically different eras. The 19th century was more localized, less universal, and people were limited by geography. But within those tiny confines, people were able to shine. Home entertainments were a big deal, as recorded by any number of 19th century memoirists and some of my own family history. Entertainment was not something dictated from New York or LA and parceled out to the masses. It was something the masses, of necessity, had to create for themselves.
There were fewer gatekeepers in the 19th century because the world was more localized and spread out. There are fewer gatekeepers in the 21st century because the tools have been created to put the power of production into the hands of the artists themselves. The 20th century stands alone as a unique era when the technology was controlled by those who could bankroll it, because for that short period of time only a few people could afford it. Not so now!
Every day, more and more artists are waking up to the fact that they have the power to produce on their own. My prediction is that as this century forges on, the necessity of a gatekeeper will become less and less. The public will be the ultimate barometer of popularity. It’s sad, but attitudes like Steven Zacharais’s may end up being the downfall of the traditional publishing industry. They’re still thinking like the 20th century, not realizing that bit by bit, the rest of us are moving on.