Access to content is ever-broadening. Current social trends present any participant of the internet with the tools to create and share text, image, video, audio, and other media content. “…the Internet’s newest new thing. Every new social platform, social app, social page,… becoming a piece of this new social media world –” (Kemp 9) The challenge for readers becomes not paying for content but finding the tree of interesting content in the dense forest. The issue for authors is the lack of compensation. In the digital world where content can be viewed, copied, and shared, less payment compensates the creator’s efforts. The broadening connectivity of internet communication seems to adversely affect the revenue of content creators. Unpaid creators sharing on the internet must divide their time resources between developing the skills of their passion, cultivating an audience, and working a job to support their family. Open access is changing the culture of creation, and the methods by which creators can earn a living by their skills. To be fiscally successful from openly sharing content, the creator must publicize in an efficient manner and eventually produce physical goods.
Before the social revolution spurred by the internet, content was shared by gatekeepers. In the media now so accessible: text, image, video, audio; there was a limiting structure for its proliferation. Trained and proficient individuals: writers, painters, photographers, filmographers, musicians; each creator had an industry in which to participate. Writers submitted texts to publishing houses. Painters participated in juried exhibitions. Musicians had record companies. In his 14th April, 2013 keynote at the London Book Fair, Neil Gaiman used the metaphor of gatekeeping to illustrate this change in content, specifically music, proliferation.
In the conclusion he states,
“These days the gates being guarded, the gates where there are fewer and fewer actual walls. In music, the walls have long since fallen along with the sale of physical objects. Home taping didn’t really kill music. Music’s out there doing just fine. More of it’s actually being made than ever, but the trick is becoming to find the good stuff. And for people who make the music to figure out how to monetize what they’re doing.”
This content was transcribed by a fan and authorized by Gaiman. And this is where social networking has an impact. Both on- and off-line a recommendation from a trusted friend, especially one with similar interests, is more influential than a paid advertisement from a stranger or corporation. (Nielson)
It is free to be loaned a book, listen to a borrowed CD, or watch a movie with friends. This is not referred to as piracy. The initial purchase of the physical container of the content sent money through the publisher to the creator. However, when the content is digital and duplicated, the identical copy does not support the publisher, which is why corporations wage war against piracy, but piracy does not harm individual artists. (Vinik) The analog publisher’s role was to bring the creator’s content to consumers though the creation of physical copies (which are expensive to make) and through marketing support (Swinnerton 73). In a digital arena, both of these roles are taken by social networking. The proliferation of digital copies which are shared (either through duplication or simultaneous viewing) replaces both marketing and publishing. However, it does so without creating any revenue for purchases of the content, as the publishing model did. This is referred to as Open Access, not to be confused with Open Source. With open access, creators share their content without charge to reach a wider audience. (Suber 4). In Open Source, the exact methods and plans for creating (usu. a physical object or product) are shared so that consumers capable of constructing the product and improving upon it may do so without purchase. For independent creators with open access content on the internet, revenue comes most from the sale of quality physical objects, which give fans a reason to fiscally contribute.
The collection of objects relevant to purchase-worthy experiences brings revenue to the creator of those experiences. A concert T-shirt and the print edition of a webcomic are both meaningful, physical souvenirs of an experience that began online, with the sharing of free content. The band, endeavoring to gain an audience shared their music on YouTube or as free downloads on their website. The artist wanted accountability and motivation in the form of followers over the arduous journey of independent comic creation. Though these creators want eventually to make money from their endeavors, it is not from the desire to monetize the content, but from the desire to have their living derive from their passion. This would enable them to spend more time creating better content and networking with other creators.
Demanding payment for content before it is consumed does not cultivate a new audience. Instead, consumers of shared content are more likely to share alike and publicize the content. This is described by both Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow in a dandelion analogy. An example of how offline ideas can propagate through the internet, this metaphor was described in Doctorow’s essay “Think Like a Dandelion“ included in 2011 Context (35) which started as a column in Locus Magazine in 2008, his 2013 novel Homeland (161), and in Gaiman’s keynote (15:20) due to the fact they discussed it in person before Doctorow’s first internet mention of the subject. Networking and sharing content happens both online and offline. In the novel, the main characters are posed with the issue of how best to share information quickly and efficiently, as they have limited time.
“Well, we’re mammals, so we tend to think of reproduction as being expensive and precious. When we want to copy ourselves, we take ourselves out of commission for months, then commit years of more-or-less full-time work to making sure our copies survive.” I wasn’t sure if I liked being talked about as a “copy” of my parents, but I couldn’t deny the underlying truth. “But look at a dandelion: by the time it’s seeding, it’s made thousands of potential copies of itself, all those little bits of fluff that make up the puffball. When a gust of wind comes along, the dandelion doesn’t follow all its children to make sure they get steered in the right direction and have their mittens and a packed lunch with them. Almost every seed a dandelion tosses into the wind is going to die without taking root, but that’s not what matters to a dandelion. Dandelions don’t care that every seed survives: they care that every opportunity to take root is exploited. A successful dandelion is one that colonizes every crack in the sidewalk, not one that successfully plants all its seeds.”
Homeland’s explanation of the metaphor is the most thorough and succinct of the instances of mention documented above. This low-cost low-time method of dandelion marketing involves use of free social networking tools and a reliance on fans to publicize creator-shared content. “Now, in the world of open access reading, personal interest forms a bond, at a basic level…” (159 Willinsky) Involved in the process of proliferation, fans are more invested in the content and its creator, leading to the success of crowd-sourcing platforms such as Kickstarter. This enables individuals to incrementally fund a creative project and receive a product of the project, usually in a physical form.
The use of social networking and crowd-sourced funding helps to separate the forest from the trees when consuming content on the internet. Consumers don’t simply stumble through the expanse of open access user-generated content, but are pointed toward good things by trusted members of their network, both on- and offline. Kickstarter is structured to help fund promising projects by showing staff-picked, FaceBook friend-backed, and popular projects to visitors of their front page. Through the efficient and judicious use of dandelion marketing, as well as the eventual production of a collectible physical project, creators and consumers can form a healthy and mutually beneficial bond.
Doctorow, Cory. “Think Like A Dandelion”. Context. 2011.
Doctorow, Cory. Homeland. 2013.
Doctorow, Cory. “Think Like A Dandelion: reproductive strategies for the internet era” Blog. 6 May 2008. http://craphound.com/?p=2051 accessed 28 April 2013.
Falls, Jenn. Neil Gaiman Speech London Book Fair Full Transcription. 23 April 2013. FallsIntoWriting.com. Web. http://fallsintowriting.com/2013/04/23/neil-gaiman-speech-full-transcription/
Gaiman, Niel. Digital Minds Conference 2013 Keynote. London Book Fair. QEII Conference Centre, Westminster, London 13 April 2013
Keen, Andrew. Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us. St. Martin’s Press. New York. 2012.
The Nielson Company. “Global Advertising Consumers Trust Real Friends and Virtual Strangers the Most” 07 June 2009. Web. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/newswire/2009/global-advertising-consumers-trust-real-friends-and-virtual-strangers-the-most.html accessed 30 April 2013.
Suber, Peter. Open Access. The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2012.
Swinnerton, Frank. Authors and the Book Trade. Knoph. New York. 1932.
Vinik, Danny. “Online Piracy Isn’t a Problem”. Washington Monthly. 4 August 2012. Web. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2012/08/online_piracy_isnt_a_problem039015.php accessed 30 April 2013.
Willinsky, John. The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship. The MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2006