I’ve been blogging for several years now, and doing this kind of writing on a daily basis (there are over 2100 posts on doublebassblog.org right now….and counting!) has naturally made me take some time to think about the benefits and drawbacks of independent publishing.
I’ve also done a fair amount of writing for other blogs and publications during this same time period, and while most of these have been positive experiences, I still love being able to implement ideas and projects on my own timetable without having to answer to any higher editorial authority.
I fervently believe that there is great power in having the final word on your own content. Anyone who has spent time on committees knows how inspired ideas can be ground down to a group think pulp as everyone tries to add their own spin or personal agenda to a project. Having to vet your ideas in group settings can kill innovation and make for bland, boring, “safe” projects that engage no one.
I often realize, as I post a particular video, feature a particular guest, or tell a story about some excruciating event, that the kind of material that appears on this blog really couldn’t be published by an institution or organization. Think about the various parties that would have to sign off on every YouTube video (think about the duets with yourself video I put up recently, for example), every story I write (what about the ‘feelings’ of the group I wrote about in my A Week in the Life series), or every guest, resource, or event I profile (might I be seen as currying favor by featuring some particular person, organization, or product?).
With my current setup (and this is why blogging is so powerful), I decide to write about something and I simply write about it, consequences be damned. Now, I have a certain editorial and journalistic standard to which I hold myself (not that I have had any formal training as either an editor or a journalist), and I write within the confines of my own personal standards. You, as readers, decide for yourselves what level of trust and authority you attach to my writing–just as you should for any news source, be it the NBC Nightly News or some angry anonymous guy on a forum board.
As a blogger, I stake my reputation on the topics I write. If I start to publish lies, inflammatory posts, or other putzy material, I will quickly lose credibility and therefore authority. Authority is elevated above the din of the blogosphere by actively engaged readers, and one’s credibility (or lack thereof) is determined by these very same readers.
In a nutshell, what I’m implying is that I really do have an editorial authority–you! Isn’t that a better situation than some shadowy anonymous figure in the background deciding what you should or should not be able to read?
As an independent publisher theoretically capable or reaching the exact same number of people as any online publishing service, you are limited only by your imagination and time. Do you want to create an interactive live streaming online call-in show? Tech guru Chris Pirillo is doing it all the time, and I have the tools do it as well (more on that later). How about your own daily radio show? Video show? Daily news feed? Piece of cake–the only limiting factor is your willingness to invest your time (or find people to help you if you lack some necessary skills).
Parallels can be found in the music industry and in how more and more artists (think Radiohead and Madonna, or pioneering podcast artists Jonathan Coulton and Brother Love) are eschewing traditional record labels (which rarely result in actual profits for artists) and exploring nontraditional arrangements with independent labels, embracing rather than running from file sharing, and attempting to actively speak to a niche audience of highly engaged people rather than painting broad musical strokes for a large audience with only moderate interest. Contrary to RIAA opinion, fans really do want to see their favorite artists succeed and will gladly plunk down their hard-earned cash for live events, merchandise, and physical copies of the tracks that they could easily download for free. It is not uncommon for a fan of an independent artist to not only pay for a ticket but also come home with $50 worth of T-shirts, albums, and other merchandise, knowing that this money is going to the artist rather than some major label bureaucracy.
The ideal arrangement for an independent publisher, and one that I envision becoming much more common in the future, is to form a loose association of like-minded content creators that work together to build an audience and market themselves. This is what we’re doing with Inside the Arts, and it really is a great model. By keeping one’s own editorial authority but becoming part of a community of like-minded content creators, one ends up creating a new type of organization quite different from traditional television, radio, or print media models. This new media (I’ve been trying to avoid that phrase in this post, having used it so frequently in recent weeks that one could make a drinking game out of it) model allows for a destination site that aggregates these independent voices together.
Using RSS to mix your own news channel with Google Reader, radio station with iTunes, or social melting pot with Twitter.com or Facebook.com is one of the most powerful tools that users have available to them now. Instead of picking up the Chicago Tribune (or any local paper) and digesting their precooked menu of content creators, people now have the option to pull all their favorite content creators together and mix them up into their own personal interactive newspaper. Heck, there are even services out here that lay out these RSS feeds like newspaper columns. Why go to CNN.com when you can subscribe to just the topics that interest you, plus roll it up with some newyorktimes.com content, onion.com content, doublebassblog.org content (of course!), insidethearts.com content, plus some videos from YouTube and topical audio content from podshow.com?
This news dissemination paradigm allows readers to select topical content that highly interests them, and it rewards independent voices by making the as easily incorporated into a reader’s daily news digest as any major media outlet. Though the financial support for independent voices is still a work in progress (though many bloggers are making a living solely from their online writing these days), it will be interesting to see how things shake out 5, 10, or 20 years down the road. I see real power and huge potential in the RSS model, and judging from ever-increasing layoffs from print media outlets, so do the print media outlets. Will organizations like the Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and many other U.S. newspapers) be able to remain competitive over the coming decades? Will the advertising dollars continue to fund these titans, or will they trickle across the Internet, instead investing in search, blogs, podcasts, and targeted niche content?