As part of my self-education as a writer learning to market his work, I’ve been watching trends in e-books and audiobooks as well as publishing industry trends, and thinking about them in the context of podcasting as an endeavor that takes a lot of passion and commitment from very creative people.
With all the talk of the podcasting revolution a few years ago, I wonder how many people truly grasp the potential enormity of what we’re doing. Just like good old Mr. Ballantine who invented the paperback, we podcasters are creating new kinds of intellectual property. However, unlike Mr. Ballantine, we don’t fully appreciate what we’re up to.
As a culture we value the Creative Commons, which is (in my opinion) a net good for both our work and for the broader markets we’re trying to engage. However, viewing the CC as the whole picture of intellectual property is, in my estimation, an error.
More importantly, as those of us who have been in the game get more sophisticated about how we do things (using custom-composed music, guest voices, licensing music from other commercial sources), we’re wading into more complicated legal and business territory. Some of us, such as Philippa Ballantine, have gotten broader distribution deals on Internet or satellite radio – others of us struggle ever to get noticed beyond the very niche podcast fiction community.
The bar-raising we’ve been doing is pushing podcast fiction, and perhaps podcasting in general, out of the realm of a hobbyist community and into the realm of being a true grass-roots industry. There will always be hobbyists, of course, and I think we should encourage them every inch that we can. But the last couple years have opened up vast new creative, legal, and business territories that few of us are properly equipped to deal with.
This leaves us vulnerable to the kind of exploitation that went on with musicians in the 1960s. At the Monterey Pop festival in 1967, most of the groups we identify with the hippie movement were signed to record deals. It was, for them, a dream come true – they suddenly had distribution – someone was paying them for their art! The community’s revolution was going mainstream, and the days of begging and busking and eating brown rice to get by were over!
Except that the hippe community, much like our own, had always worked on family trust and handshake deals, so when faced with something on a larger scale offered by people who spoke the right language, they signed up. And most of them got taken. They generated fortunes they didn’t get to participate in, they got locked into indentured servitude-like obligations, and they lost creative control of their own work and catalogs – and they had no one to blame but themselves. They signed the contracts without doing due diligence, and they were so happy at any opportunity for exposure that they literally didn’t look at the fine print.
We don’t want that kind of thing to happen to members of our community/industry. Whether friends or rivals or enemies, I know of nobody on whom I would wish that kind of misery, and I suspect most people in the industry feel the same.
At the same time some of us are scaling up to other opportunities, the gulf between those who have established audiences and those who are new to this is getting pronounced, and it’s getting harder (very subtly) for new voices to find the coaching and advice they need on anything but the most basic issues. Sure, there are a lot of resources about how to use Audacity, or where to find a good USB mic, but there’s very little newbie-accessible information on nailing down advertising deals, or improving one’s mic technique or audio engineering, or making the leap into full cast audio, or creating good working relationships with beta readers or voice actors. Or what about a place to get boilerplate contracts, or marketing strategies, or (for those faced with opportunities they’re not prepared for) good basic business resources?
I think the time has come for us to create an industry association for New Media creators, starting with podcasters. Over the next couple months, both Allen Sale of Astral Audio and I will be working on pilot projects and keeping hold of the resources we generate from them – contracts, tutorials, strategizing, a compendium of podcasts that are friendly to publicity interviews, basic legal and business information that we learn or employ along the way – and we will start packaging them for use by other content creators. When we’ve hit a critical mass, we’re going to look into forming a non-profit with the aim of becoming the SFWA of podcast fiction and YouTube video.
Some very good resources, such as the Podiobooks Mentorship Program, already exist, and what they do is vital. But it’s not enough, not if our industry is to grow beyond its little ghetto and more reliably generate opportunities for us in the broader world. We’re looking to augment what already exists, rather than replace it, and create a resource available to everyone to enable them to play in this sandbox at whatever level they want to, whether it’s as a hobby, a podiobook author, a multimedia producer, or a serious powerhouse transmedia content business. Our community has gotten big enough that it has the potential to get in its own way, and our visibility is still rising and generating opportunities many of us simply aren’t prepared to negotiate.
I think we can do better than the hippies did. I think, if we put together a definitive educational resource pool, the individual artists in our community might be able to transition upward without getting ripped off.
As Allen told me when we talked about this project: â€œWe don’t want to fit in â€“ we want to find ways to stand out so that we can’t be ignored.â€