Insurgent Creative: “Nobody Gets Rich, But Everybody Gets Paid.”

There have been a couple of videos released recently, both of interest to anybody considering life as an Insurgent Creative.

Insurgent CreativeFirst up, here’s a keynote address from the Tools of Change conference, featuring comics creator Mark Waid. Waid is a writer who has worked for Marvel and DC Comics, including multi-year runs on The Flash and Captain America. He was the chief creative officer of independent comics publisher BOOM! Studios, before leaving to launch a digital comics platform, Thrillbent (which I’ve covered on this blog before).

In this keynote, Waid talks about his method of reinventing comics for the digital platform — which is really cool, especially if you have an interest in the format. But one of the main reasons that I’m posting it here is the things that he says about monetization, which he gets to at around 14 minutes in. Watch the whole thing, though — it’s really interesting:

Thrillbent gives their product away for free. Every week, around 10-12 pages of comic book story, available on the website, free of charge. Once they’ve got a months’ worth of material (40-ish pages), they collect it — along with some bonus material (extras, commentary, etc.) and sell it in digital format via Comixology, the largest digital distributor of comic books. The sales generated by that single source are enough to cover their overhead, which keep them going, and allow them to explore further options (other distribution, print-on-demand collections, etc) which are purely profit-generating. They’re free to experiment, without worrying about how they’ll continue.

As Waid says: “Nobody gets rich, but Everybody gets paid.”

It’s a saying that you hear a lot when talking about these new models — rather than the luck-lottery of success in the traditional model, which tends to create a small number of super-stars who do very well, the insurgent creative model often leads to an environment of fewer super-stars, fewer break-out successes, but more creatives able to make a comfortable living doing what they love.

Or, as Amanda Palmer puts it: “For most of human history musicians and artists have been a part of the community. Connectors and openers. Not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance. But the internet, and the content that we are freely able to share on it, are taking us back. It’s about a few people loving you up close. And about those people being enough.

That’s quote from her recent TEDTalk (if you’re not aware of TED — Technology, Entertainment, Design — a series of freely available lectures on “ideas worth spreading”, do yourself a huge favor and dive in), on the subject of “Asking” — crowdfunding, busking, the artist asking their audience for support.

Creative insurgency thrives on the relationship between you and your audience. That audience may not ever be massive, but finding a smaller audience that is “enough” is an achievable goal. (For those who’ve never read it, Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans post discusses this model — the goal of finding 1000 people who are willing to spend $100 per year on the stuff you create. It’s not a massive number, and results in a comfortable living.)

That seems to be the key point that is being missed by so many critics who are quick to point out that Waid and Palmer are “outliers” (the favorite word of this sort of critic), who succeed at this model by virtue of their audience platforms gained via traditional successes. They don’t grasp that this concept is scalable. You don’t need to have 800K Twitter followers, or 25K True Fans — you just need 1000. Or even 500. Or whatever number works best for you, and gives you what you need to live while creating. It’s about a few people, as Palmer says, being enough.

The model is not for everyone (and nobody says that it is — another point lost on the critics) — if you are uncomfortable with putting yourself “out there”, it’s probably not for you. Bizarrely, I’ve seen traditional-model folks actually complain that this new model is “tearing down” the old, and will lead to a world where introverts get lost in a model which somehow “unfairly advantages the extrovert.” (Yeah, apparently this is a thing.)

This is, of course, reaction from fear — and completely unfounded. Yes, the Insurgent Creative model means that folks who are comfortable with self-promotion will do better than those who are not. It also benefits polymaths — people who have the skills to do a lot of different jobs that traditionally handled for creatives by a publisher, record label, film studio, etc. This is not a bug, it’s a feature. And, most importantly, the traditional model will not go away. Uncomfortable introverts can continue to uncomfortable and introverted, and have promotion and other services handled for them, for the simple reason that there will be money to be made offering those services. If the corporate world has shown us anything, it’s that as long as there’s a market, somebody will serve that market. There will always be a market for the traditional methods.

It’s not a zero-sum game. More options for everyone means just that: More options. So calm down.

Create your stuff, and get it out there by the method that best suits your needs. That’s the best part of this new world.

Insurgent Creative: Combatting eBook ‘Piracy’

Insurgent Creative

There’s bit an uptick recently in authors posting blog entries about the subject of “eBook Piracy”. Today, for example, Chuck Wendig did one of his ’25 Things’ posts about it. The following was written by me as a comment to Chuck’s post, but I figured it was worth re-stating here, under the Insurgent Creative banner, since it’s a subject of importance to independent creators.

A couple of things:Insurgent Creative

1) If you really want to address the culture, stop calling it “piracy.”

The GOP managed to kill the Inheritance Tax by successfully renaming it the Death Tax. Death Tax, Death Tax, Death Tax — that’s the only way they’d refer to it. The Democrats starting defending the tax using the same name, which allowed the GOP to set the terms of the debate, and now folks like Tagg Romney are insured that the benefits of their grueling hard work of being born are not subject to taxes, and all because Cooter in South Carolina doesn’t like the idea of his Momma being roughed up by Revenuers on her death bed.

By calling it “Piracy”, you romanticize it for supporters (“I’m a dashing, swashbuckling rogue!”) and demonize it for opponents (“It’s theft! A crime!”) — both of which neatly avoids the *actual thing that’s happening*, which is simply Unauthorized File Sharing. Unauthorized file sharing is a natural result of our communications technology outstripping our copyright laws. Calling it something else prevents us from reasonably approaching the issue and updating our laws to match technological reality.

2) The only way to reduce unauthorized file sharing is through cost and convenience. That’s it. …And note, I didn’t say “prevent” or “stop”, because it won’t — nothing will. That genie is out of the bottle. The best we can do is make it *really easy* for people to compensate us and get our files. If we do that, most will.

Look at Apple. Damn near everybody has downloaded unauthorized mp3 files. Chuck used Napster, so did I, so did millions of others. Music is one of the most-shared things on the planet. And yet, Apple bet literally *millions* of dollars on the idea that people would be willing to pay for that music, rather than share it — and they bet that money AFTER file-sharing was already pretty common. They went after it with cost (99 cents a song — an impulse one-click purchase) and convenience (easily searchable, instantly delivered, and guaranteed to be free of malware and viruses).

The result? A multi-billion dollar business. Selling things which are STILL available for free as unauthorized file shares elsewhere online. They bank on the fact that the cost and convenience makes them a better choice than digging for a free file that might be low-quality, or a virus trojan, or just even mis-labeled. And they’ve been proven right.

Cost and convenience, kids. Make your digital stuff available easily and cheaply. If your publisher doesn’t do it, carve out those rights and do it your damn self. It’s not hard.


Insurgent Creative Journalism

cartoonandrewIn a very interesting move, political commentator and blogger Andrew Sullivan has announced that his highly-viewed site, The Dish, will be going fully independent beginning in February.

Sullivan, a British expatriate living in the US, started as an independent blogger in 2000, offering aggregation and commentary on political and cultural issues. As his site grew in readership, it attracted the attention of Time magazine, who then hosted the site until 2007, increasing his exposure further. Sullivan left Time for The Atlantic, leading to a 30% spike in traffic for his new hosts. The Dish then moved from The Atlantic to The Daily Beast in 2011, who hosted (and paid Sullivan and his staff) while the site’s readership increased even more. Readers of The Dish number in the millions. 70% have the site as a bookmarked destination, and the average reader spends over 16 minutes per day on the site — stunning figures for any blog.

Insurgent CreativeSo it is not surprising that Sullivan has decided to leverage that audience into a base for a crowd-funded independent operation. Starting February 1st, the Dish will appear on the original URL again (, as part of Dish Publishing LLC. The site will use a metered “freemium” model for funding. To quote Sullivan:

“Our particular version will be a meter that will be counted every time you hit a “Read on” button to expand or contract a lengthy post. You’ll have a limited number of free read-ons a month, before we hit you up for $19.99. Everything else on the Dish will remain free. No link from another blog to us will ever be counted for the meter – so no blogger or writer need ever worry that a link to us will push their readers into a paywall. It won’t. Ever. There is no paywall. Just a freemium-based meter.”

The site subscription will be $19.99 per year — absolutely worth it, in my opinion. To handle the meter and payment, Sullivan is using TinyPass, who offer solutions to small publishing operations for monetizing online content, by not only granting access to sites, sections, pages, and videos, but also sell downloadable files of any kind — which should make it of interest to any Insurgent Creative looking for an independent method of direct-to-consumer distribution. I certainly intend to look into it.

Sullivan is currently offering a “pre-subscription” to The Dish leading up to the launch — $19.99, but with the option of paying more for those more interested in true patronage.

The ground is shifting yet again — Creative insurgency is not just limited to writers, artists and musicians. We now see that journalists can also benefit from detaching themselves from corporate control and dealing directly with their audience.