Sunday, February 19, 2012

Publishing in the 21st century

We live in an exciting time when information can be shared in a vast number of ways. Cassettes have become CDs and DVDs, and even books can be purchased in a digital form. With these advances in technology come questions as to the future of media publication. Tools like Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, and others have become popular ways for small time authors, musicians, film makers, and more to reach audiences without traditional advertising. Recently, many artists have found success by bucking the traditional system and using the internet and networking in order to promote their work without the need to rely upon the big name publishing houses, record labels, and film companies.

E-readers and services like iTunes are allowing up-and-coming artists to publish their work without having to rely on the traditional methods. Many, however, inevitably find that they can only reach a very small number of people this way, usually only their friends and a few others who happen to incidentally discover them. This is why some artists have turned to new methods of self-promotion that can expose their work to the world.

Since it's creation, the internet has constantly strived to find new ways of connecting people and sharing information and media. In early 2005, a group of three men with a history in computer science found that they were having difficulty sharing a video over the internet. In order to solve their problem, they created a website that came to be called YouTube. Over the course of 7 years, their site has grown to become the primary method of video sharing online. While a common use of the site recently has been the sharing of copyrighted media, many users enjoy sharing videos of themselves performing. Some users, such as Scott Monaghan (aka Mr. Pitiful) Bo Burnham, and Justin Bieber, have achieved varying levels of fame and success after posting videos on the site. All three would likely have remained complete unknowns without the power of the internet. With the latter example, I'll let you decide if that's for better or worse.

The success of these artists following public debuts on YouTube demonstrates that a talented individual can be successful without needing to go through traditional channels. Yet talent alone doesn't make someone famous. Without networking, these people might have forever been doomed to obscurity. Fortunately for them, another site was developed a year before YouTube: Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg's site, originally envisioned as a way for students on his college campus to communicate, has since grown to have over 845 million active users. Facebook revolutionized the sharing of information by allowing users to add friends, and then, with the click of a button, spam them all with whatever information they happened to find worth posting. If a user uploads a video to YouTube, then shares it with all of his or her friends on Facebook, and then 3 of their friends share it, and three of each of their friends share it, and so on and so forth, suddenly one person's video is being seen by thousands of people all around the world.

Facebook, therefore, could be considered the most powerful advertising tool on the planet. After all, we all learn to ignore those little ad banners on pages because we know they're trying to sell us something that we probably don't want or need. When our friends are telling us to check something out, though, it's something entirely different. We know our friends. We pay attention to them. We know their tastes, so we can have a pretty good feeling whether or not we want to watch something that they've shared. With the right network of friends, it's not hard for a video, blog, or website to spread like wildfire, going viral almost overnight.

Videos aren't the only thing that can be shared using social networking, however. Writers and artists are finding that they are also able to boost their renown and sales through use of sites like Facebook and Twitter. Sites catering specifically to artists and writers, such as DeviantArt, have greatly increased in popularity over the past few years. These sites give users the ability to share their work with others and receive critiques and ratings from the site's community. While the sites themselves may not bring income to the up-and-coming artists, they allow them to promote their work, which, over time, may increase their sales. Artists may use sites like DeviantArt to take requests for paid commissions, or to sell prints of their work. Writers may post samples of their work in order to encourage those who read them to purchase their newest book.

Sometimes, sites like Facebook, YouTube, and DeviantArt are not enough to really bring success (and money) to the self-made artist. These days most serious career artists have a website that they can call their own. Here, they can collect whatever information they want to share with the world together in one place. Not only that, but with the help of services like Amazon's Associates program, or Google's AdSense service, the artist may get a small or even large income from their site.

Some web-comic artists, such as XKCD's Randall Monroe, are able to make a living through their work alone. These artists always have their own websites and make money through some combination of website ad revenue, donations, and sales of related merchandise, such as prints and clothing. I'm not sure if other writers have done this, but I have recently begun using the web-comic formula in publishing one of my own works, Faceless War. I began posting the novel about a month ago in small segments, each intended to be roughly the length of a printed page. I have found that publishing in this manner encourages me to write daily and allows me to share my work while keeping it alive. If I find a grammatical or spelling error, or decide to rewrite a sentence or even entire paragraph, I'm able to quickly alter my book's text at any time.

After a month of being online, my site has received 402 views, an average of 14 a day. Some days I'll celebrate having over 40 page views in one day. Others I'll be dismayed to discover that I had no views. Google estimates my earnings from ad revenue to be $2.42. That's a little more than half a cent for each view. A little math suggests that for me to even begin thinking of living off of ad revenue from my site, I'd have to have around ten thousand views every day.

Finding success as an artist is never easy. Those who choose to go with the big name publishers will likely face months if not years of sending out manuscripts only to have them rejected. Those who choose to self-publish must promote their work in order to have any chance of getting seen or heard. It's a long road no matter how you choose to travel it, who you are, or how much talent you have. However, despite the many different ways we choose to make it as artists in this world, we all have one thing in common: we have to create, even if no one is watching or listening. Because if we have reached even one person, we have succeeded.