Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seth Godin comments on Consumers and Creators

My wife pointed out this post from Seth Godin's blog:

Consumers and creators

Fifty years ago, the ratio was a million to one. 
For every person on the news or on primetime, there were a million viewers.
The explosion of magazines brought the ratio to 100,000:1. If you wrote for a major magazine, you were going to impact a lot of people. Most of us were consumers, not creators.
Cable TV and zines made it 10,000 to one. You could have a show about underwater spearfishing or you could teach people to make hamburgers on donuts. The little star is born.
And now of course, when it's easy to have a blog, or an Youtube account or to push your ideas to the world through social media, the ratio might be 100:1. For every person who sells on Etsy, there are a hundred buyers. For every person who actively tweets, there are a hundred people who mostly consume those tweets. For every hundred visitors to Squidoo, there is one new person building pages.
What does the world look like when we get to the next zero?

I've very much felt the impact of this explosion in my attempt to sell my novels.  People are creating short bursts of text/images/ideas like never before, but I think this increased ability to feel what it's like to have an audience for their work has also greatly inspired people to write more books.  Just ask agents--they're getting more submissions from writers than ever before.  They're completely swamped in queries, editors are completely swamped in submissions from agents, and the number of self-published novels (especially e-books) is like a hundred year flood.  But maybe one that will never recede.

In a lot of ways, this is a good thing.  People are able to express themselves.  Writing and creating is a good thing for your soul, for your life, for your community.

It also makes it a lot harder to find an audience.  Twenty years ago, my novels would have had a decent shot (I think) of being mid-list books, and I could be making some money and finding readers.  Today, the mid-list seems to have mostly vanished, and publishers making most of their bets on sure things, and on authors who have already broken out of the internet pack and found a platform of readers.

In some ways, the world when we get to the next zero is really interesting.  People have a better appreciation of what it takes to create, and maybe they have an interest in consuming a broader range of input.  One thing Godin doesn't address is that people who create more (thoughts, text, blogs, tweets), also end up consuming a lot more input (of ideas, text, images).

We're running into the same challenges in the realm of playwriting, too.  With e-mail and software programs, it's technically easier to write and submit plays that ever before.  For quite a while, large theatres have been completely overwhelmed by the volume of submissions of scripts received.  In some ways, the old submission system (queries with samples, some scripts being read, some being produced, even without direct personal contact to the theatre) has become completely broken (see this interesting discussion by David Dower on the Arena Stage New Play Blog--I plan to write more about it soon).  There are just too many plays and playwrights out there for it to work for anyone.  Maybe that system never quite worked (though it depends on whom you ask).  My sense is that, oddly, more people are writing and trying to find submissions for plays than ever before, though the number of available opportunities (especially for professional productions) for those (full-length) plays is getting smaller.

Like Seth, I'm curious to see what happens as the ratio of consumers to creators continues to shrink.  I don't think there's any changing it.  I think it'll be a lot harder to make a living as a creator, but a lot more people's personal lives will be enriched by their own experience of creation.

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