While 2011 was a big year for political unrest, another uprising was afoot in the world of content creators and artists. Everywhere you look, artists are taking more control over their own economic well being, partly because the Internet has enabled them to do so.


While 2011 was a big year for political unrest, another uprising was afoot in the world of content creators and artists. Everywhere you look, artists are taking more control over their own economic well being, in large part because the Internet has enabled them to do so. You see it in all forms of content, from books, to video to music.

A few examples from this year:

e-books: Probably the most active area in large part because there is huge shifts taking place in digital publishing. From former mid-list writers like Barry Eisler to superstars like JK Rowling, writers are increasingly making waves in digital publishing.

Video: The story of the year for artists-as-entrepreneur came at the tail-end, with Louis CK saying no thank you to corporate middlemen and putting his new concert video online for $5 a pop.

Radio/Music: All sorts of independent entrepreneurs are putting audio entertainment online, from the rise of podcast kings like Leo Laporte to a huge number of independents like Adam Carolla and Marc Maron. Music artists are being given freedom too, through new platforms to create and share their music like Soundcloud.

So what is driving this movement towards the artist-entrepreneur that will give it huge momentum in 2012?  Here are a few underlying trends:

The distribution chain is collapsing across content verticals

The middleman is under attack on all fronts, whether its in video, music/audio and e-books. As devices like TVs become connected, as books become e-readers and tablets, and music is now digital, the storefront is fast-becoming the entire distribution chain.  With e-books it’s Amazon or Apple, with radio it’s iTunes, with video it’s Google/YouTube, Netflix and other upstarts who are investing in original content, or simply direct-to-consumer efforts using web-payment platforms like Paypal.

Louis CK, who created his own site, paid for bandwidth, and used Paypal for payment, captured how many artists are beginning to think when he said in an interview with Bill Simmons that he “didn’t want to cut out the middleman, I just didn’t need one. There wasn’t any reason to have someone there. I just thought make this thing and put it up.”

Content production, distribution and monetization tools are becoming democratized through the web

In e-books, distribution and storefronts have already collapsed into one, but managing distribution across multiple channels is difficult since storefronts are still siloed (Amazon is separate from Apple iBooks, which is walled off from Barnes&Noble, etc). However, companies like Smashwords enable creation and distribution across multiple storefronts, while Vook, post-pivot, is working on SaaS tools to create e-books and manage their distribution, complete with reporting and management dashboards.

In music, artists are starting to embrace sites like Soundcloud to create music and share it, while others direct-to-fan sites like Topspin Media are enabling artists to create commerce sites to sell music in turnkey fashion. And it’s not just music sales, but actual concert tickets. The Pixies used Topspin to sell tickets for a recent concert, utilizing email campaigns and to notify fans and processed the tickets using an iOS app at the door.

With video, big middlemen still dominate, but that is changing as video creation and distribution costs come down in a world of connected devices. As Ryan Lawler wrote in a piece for GigaOM Pro:

“independent content creators stand to gain the most through massive reductions in the cost of recording equipment and editing software, as well as the greater availability of streaming video service on connected devices. They gain new distribution opportunities for their content and greater possibility for monetization. Consider any of the top YouTube video channels, which probably wouldn’t be able to survive in the pay-TV universe but have created thriving businesses due to the cost structure online.”

Generational shifts towards technology savvy-artists

As Matt Mullenweg put in in his New Year’s resolution on GigaOM:

“For a year now, I’ve said scripting is the new literacy. That’s something I strongly believe. In Douglas Rushkoff’s latest book, he talks about “program or be programmed.” That is, if you’re not in control of your inputs, you’re not really in control of your outputs either. You’re just a reactionary force.”

Matt is right, in that scripting is the new literacy, and a growing form of artistic expression. Tech-savvy artists are creating apps and developing sites to put their art into the world. Whether its Matt Inmann creating his work and coding his site at The Oatmeal or young app developers like Robert Nay, artists are becoming coders and vice versa, since, as Mullenweg states, scripting is “new literacy”.

No doubt, the vast majority of economic wealth is still distributed through large corporate media, but as new technologies enable artists to reach consumers directly through push-button creation and distribution, there is a movement afoot. Expect this movement to expand in 2012 as more artists take control of their own economic destinies and become part of the artist-entrepreneur generation.

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  1. An artist / entrepreneur worth studying is Rick Devos (scion of Amway dynasty) and what he has done with @ArtPrize – see ArtPrize.org

    1. Interesting cause and site. Scions often go into the arts (see Warren Buffett’s children), and its good to see them do good things here.

  2. I’m a movie producer and an author – right in the middle of all of this. I have to admit that something clicked with me this year. I went from fear of the unstable distribution systems to seeing it as an opportunity. I’m excited about 2012 for us.

    1. Better to embrace it than fear it, particularly if you’re not a more established artist who is currently seeing huge returns through the traditional corporate media model.

  3. It is the year of the Artist/Entrepreneur… Interesting enough I think that tech that makes lasting change can only be created by artist visionaries and I do not think that if you are an visual/musical/literary artist that you are excluded from creating/developing applications that can make change. To often Artist are put into boxes and categorized within a given Artistic filed….What should be understood is that Artistic Creativity can and has led to many great achievements in tech


    1. I think many of the same parts in the mind are firing during the creative process, whether its making a movie, writing a book or coding an app. Many of the strong innovators in tech also have strong artistic orientations.

  4. The time of the artist entrepreneur is already here. I’ve done recorded interviews with dozens of artists who are doing very well with their own business.

    Painters, sculptors, Sharpie artists, and others have built massive niche businesses run by just one or two people.

    It’s exciting to see this making news though. ;)

    1. There has always been entrepreneurial artists. I think that now, however, the web and associated platform to create, distribute, monetize are so democratized you’re seeing a more significant share of content doing an end-run around traditional corporate media companies.

      1. GigaOM needs one of those features that notifies you of comment replies. You’d get more engagement.

        I totally agree with you. The web has democratized distribution to a certain extent. Artists can build up a following of a few thousand, or even a few hundred, and make a decent living. Pretty fun stuff.

  5. Last year I published my first novel, with the help of a very small publisher. He handled the print version, but I wanted to do all the work for the Kindle and Nook version, as this skill set seemed important to learn. Now, with two more completed (in edit stage) novels, and a third on the way, I feel confident that 2012 will be a good year for the Henry Wood Detective Agency series. Amazon’s sale of 5 million Kindles over the holidays only reinforces this in my eyes.

    Will I be hugely successful? The odds are still against it, but having a foot in the door, means the dream and possibility exist. That is all I ask.

  6. “Scripting is the new literacy” – Matt Mullenweg
    “Program or be programmed” – Douglas Rushkoff.

    This was the dream of Computer Scientists since BASIC.


    1. True. But as you make coding more approachable through tools, etc, you allow more artistic minds to on-board faster to coding and create stuff rather than getting hung up and lost in commands and programming logic.

      1. So true Michael..
        As an artist (oil painter/musician/animator etc) I embraced early 3d animation technology in the mid 80’s. Boy it was not easy and still isn’t . But graphically orientated tools now abound with more appearing everyday that allow the artist to more easily engage and create further tools that are useable by less code orientated creatives. I’ve watched this happen consistently over the past few decades and have hopefully help in this process and will continue to do so.

      2. We’re doing that :)

  7. had to chime in, as a 61 year old, decades working-artist in images and words, it has been a thrill to discover that the door to ebook publishing had been greased enough for me to actually learn to format, upload, and start offering several decades of creative work

    i’d followed the technology changes “fairly” modestly since my first mac back in the early 90s, and this was, and is, the first time i’ve felt i can do more than simply create a page, and s.l.o.w.l.y. build a few people at a time to come see, come buy…

    i, for one, am grateful ;-)

    1. At 65, I share your perspective, and likely much of your history. I have never felt more empowered, as an artist, as a writer, as a marketeer than I do today. I, too, am grateful!

  8. I expect 2012 to be a big year in this regard. Unfortunately few creative people are entrepreneurial. Any time in the past, an artist could make much more money creating their own products and marketing the products themselves. I was creating artistic software titles in the late eighties. A couple of thousand as start up cash and a months worth of work. Suddenly more than $40000 in the bank from cashed cheques. No thanks to Apple though. Waiting for them to confirm a technical issue delayed my release by weeks. They never replied.

    I have seen this day coming for three years now. I have been in preproduction for a TV show (net based) for the past 2.5 years. I am only a couple of months away from holding the pilot episode. 2.5 years is not unusual. Even the networks take a year minimum in preproduction for a new show… and thats if they throw tens of millions into the preproduction to speed it up.

    My problem is eyeballs. I cannot trust YouTube at all. Takedowns, signing away your exclusive rights (YouTube can sublicensee your content and opt to pay you nothing), and being at the whim of the YouTube staff who get to chose who to promote onto front page or top of common searches. Not to mention an advertising scheme where you need to be popular before they sign you up to paid advertising.

    Google TV are courting the networks. Sony TV courted the networks. The few independent Net TV distributers have courted the networks. Not one seems to be interested in independent content creators. Even ones like myself, who worked on TV as an international subcontractor for some of Americas largest studios. There are tens of thousands of ex subcontractors who are used to producing A Grade content. This untapped workforce is currently being overlooked.

    So the issue is how to get tens of millions of eyeballs onto my series, keep control, and get paid. I do not see a solution as yet. I trust though, that 2012 will produce at least one online TV network specialising in quality independent general content.

    1. bunny gets it.. the rest is like reading an issue of Wired in 1993… Until old media bought it out…;)

    2. Yes.. this issue is the issue that faces us all.. getting eyeballs.. seems still to be a dark art not yet in the control of the artist/entrepreneur.
      I’ve had to learn and understand so many skills.. (and I must say developers can be somewhat difficult beasts to deal with)… another mentality altogether.
      But we persist and do eventually understand.. then we can then place/create layers of tools on top of the code that the rest of can understand and use to create sophisticated content with.

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