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Cult of the Amateur?

An interesting article in the NY Times talking about a new book by Andrsew Keen called The Cult of the Amateur. It sounds like the book covers a lot of territory but one point of interest to webcomics was the notion that free content is killing content:

"What you may not realize is that what is free is actually costing us a fortune,” Mr. Keen writes. “The new winners — Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the hundreds of start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 2.0 pie — are unlikely to fill the shoes of the industries they are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred. By stealing away our eyeballs, the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music and news-gathering industries that created the original content those Web sites ‘aggregate.’ Our culture is essentially cannibalizing its young, destroying the very sources of the content they crave."

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Webcomics have not cannibalized print comics. Unlike, for example, the newspaper business (in which people are simply reading online what they once bought and paid for), online comics have expanded sequential art’s readership. Why has the web expanded the readership? There are many reasons, here’s one; Reading online comics carries no stigma and does not bestow a specific identity, while printed superhero comics and artsy underground comics are each associated with a specific stereotype.

Isaac Glovinsky

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Scientivore's picture

It sounds to me like Mr. Keen sees the Internet through the lens of the Ouroblogros. I don't doubt that journalistic content is primarily produced by a select cadre of professionals, then appropriated by aggregators and remixers. I believe that in other areas, eyeball theft is a sign of cultural rejuvenation, not cannibalism.

Webcomics, to pick a not-so-random example, are displaying a glorious profusion of stunning creativity. Yes, there's also crap. The former can follow directly from the latter as a whim becomes a hobby and then an expertise. I think that great long-term cultural value is being enabled by the low publishing costs, fast delivery and high convenience of the medium.

_________

My avatar is from Erfworld by Rob Balder & Jamie Noguchi.

_________

My avatar is from Erfworld by Rob Balder & Jamie Noguchi.

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Okay. In the words of the great man - 'Nuff said.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Greg Carter's picture

"the vast majority of webcomics (even some of the big name ones) are well below the standards of anything published by the Big Two."

I call bullshit. You keep bringing up corporate comics in a conversation about quality.

I'm saying the standards of the Big Two are irrelevant to quality as a whole. Those standards only apply to making Corporate Comics sell. I don't read any of their comics and wouldn't care if they disappeared off the face of the Earth and took Diamond with them.

Oh, yes. I went there.

Quality comics, comics that their creators care about as something other than a paycheck, but that paycheck is very nice thank you, would find a way into readers hands. Because the creators would make another way. Because it's what they do. They create. I still think you're looking at this backwards.

I do not care one tiny bit if the number of crap comics outnumber what I consider good comics a million to one. If I care enough I'll find the good ones.

Anyone who wants to promote better webcomics should point out the good stuff and quit waving the rest around. It's obvious that crap is crap. We don't need to keep saying it.

I don't mean by ignoring it, it goes away. it's just that the bad comics are not important. Doesn't mean not to review the bad ones either. Opinion is important in helping people to decide what to try and what to avoid.

Just quit blaming things on them. Bad comics will not go away. It's part of the process. There would not be more high quality comics if there were less low quality comics. It just doesn't work that way.

And don't equate success with quality, or vice versa. Good comics will be good whether they are popular or not. Gaining popularity is a whole nother kettle of fish regardless of how much crap sits around them.

Ignore the bad comics. They are irrelevant.

I'm pissed off now. So I'm going to go focus that energy on making the next page of my comic a little bit better. But then I do that on every page.

Is it "good" enough to get published by the Big Two?

God, I hope not.

Greg Carter Abandon

Greg Carter - Abandon: First Vampire - Online Graphic Novel

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

This is all true but let's not be too sanctimonious about it. Whilst the big corporations which control the media are undoubtedly bitching about public access because of the effect on their own bottom line, it is also true that it does exert a downward pressure on quality.

The advent of multi-channel (i.e. cable and satellite) TV has resulted in a frantic search for content and, for every Lost or BSG there are a dozen or more whole channels spewing out trash.

The same can be applied to comics. It's great that the web now allows creators access to an audience which they could never have reached while the gatekeepers at DC, Marvel and - more pertinently - Diamond had an effective stranglehold on the only distribution channels. But, if we're honest with ourselves, the vast majority of webcomics (even some of the big name ones) are well below the standards of anything published by the Big Two.

And the more successful the poor quality, amateur comics are, the less incentive there is for the corporations to pour dollars into producing high quality comics of their own. Empowering amateur creators undoubtedly has its upsides but it is very much a two-edged sword.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

There is some truth in what you both say. I did acknowledge it was a two-edged sword. If we blinker ourselves to the downsides, however, then we stagnate just as much as any other medium. I think this bears repeating:

[quote=DAJB] [...] if we're honest with ourselves, the vast majority of webcomics (even some of the big name ones) are well below the standards of anything published by the Big Two.[/quote]

There are high quality webcomics out there, yes. But until we acknowledge the above and stop deluding ourselves that every gag-strip made of pixels and stick figures is a classic, notwithstanding that it's recycling jokes that were stale in the 1970s, then the few high quality webcomics will remain buried under the weight of sub-par material that currently makes up the majority.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Erg's picture

It dependson what you mean. Their are alot more high qualitywebcomics than big two comics. Most comics, web,indie, or big two suck hard. But their are more good webcomics and indie comics than big two comics. THe big two only beat smaller outlets in terms of production values. Thats it.

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Erg's picture

[quote=DAJB]

This is all true but let's not be too sanctimonious about it.  Whilst the big corporations which control the media are undoubtedly bitching about public access because of the effect on their own bottom line, it is also true that it does exert a downward pressure on quality.

The advent of multi-channel (i.e. cable and satellite) TV has resulted in a frantic search for content and, for every Lost or BSG there are a dozen or more whole channels spewing out trash.

The same can be applied to comics.  It's great that the web now allows creators access to an audience which they could never have reached while the gatekeepers at DC, Marvel and - more pertinently - Diamond had an effective stranglehold on the only distribution channels.  But, if we're honest with ourselves, the vast majority of webcomics (even some of the big name ones) are well below the standards of anything published by the Big Two.

And the more successful the poor quality, amateur comics are, the less incentive there is for the corporations to pour dollars into producing high quality comics of their own.  Empowering amateur creators undoubtedly has its upsides but it is very much a two-edged sword. 

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

[/quote] I completely disagree.  Competition has made for much better TV.  Risky shows like 24, Ugly Betty or Lost would never have been made without USA, F/X and HBO hanging out there with their shows.  We'd all be watching family ties.  As far a quality goes, marvel and to a lesser extent DC have higher production values than alot of web or indie comics, but the quality of story telling and originality of the art is 100 times better.  The Big two put out maybe three good books and year and mountains of crappy fan service.  The web does better than that. 

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Greg Carter's picture

I couldn't disagree more.

You think if there were still only three TV networks that they would have more "high quality" shows? I think it's the opposite. The fewer the channels the more each show has to play to the masses. That tends to kill quality, not foster it. And what about people who don't agree with your idea of quality? I don't like either of the shows you mention. I do not think of them as high quality.

Popularity does not equal quality or vice-versa. Corporations don't pour dollars into producing high quality comics now. They pour dollars into producing comics that sell. Same with movies. Same with TV shows. And movies. And music. etc. etc. etc.

Corporate culture kills creativity. Look at your standard bearers - DC and Marvel. They have a consistent look, but I wouldn't equate that with quality.

It's not the bad comics that kill. They are easy to ignore. It's the mediocre ones that sneak in and drive out creativity. Corporate comics.

Greg Carter Abandon UpDown Studio The WebComic Hotness

Greg Carter - Abandon: First Vampire - Online Graphic Novel

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

stealing away our eyeballs

This doesn't much actually happen outside of a Nice Pete lyric, but even metaphorically I don't like that way of talking about people. It treats us as utterly passive. We don't choose to read blogs and wikis, we "get stolen" by them... I might be reading too much into the language, but it does seem to be part of Keen's thesis that on the whole we can't be trusted with our own eyeballs. Well, I'm afraid we have to be trusted with them because we're the ones with control over them. At least part of the answer to Keen's fears must be with us, our ability to recognise genuine good work and our willingness to support it.

And I wonder if Keen has any idea how good and how dedicated some of the "amateurs" actually are, and what an evil thing it would be to rob them of the opportunities and audiences the Net's given them.

He's got a point, but he's pushing it...

Howard Tayler's picture

The point that I think might be worth making is that certain kinds of content require lots and lots (and LOTS) of practice in order to make well. Most of us would be better writers, artists, or musicians if we could work on our craft full-time.

The biggest danger of the "cult of the amateur" is that somehow NOBODY will be able to make a full-time living generating the content that is being distributed for free, and we'll all see our standards lowered.

Frankly, I think that's extremely unlikely. Fearmongers among the current elite would have us think it is our destiny, but the truth is that a new elite will rise from the current turbulence. 

Schlock Mercenary

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Jamie Robertson's picture

I agree w/ imworlds. However, if or when the tides turn 90% of the internet will still be crap. It'll be slick, lots of money thrown at it crap, but crap nonetheless.

As to Keen's argument that the internet is the evil that will destroy our society, well that's what they said about television. Despite the shear banal puke that is Reality TV our society seems to be chugging along pretty good.

Clan of the Cats

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Old media is losing this battle, for now. But we cannot get complacent about this and just assume this will go on forever. Historically, power structures hold on to their power through any means necessary, and if we are not politically active and aware of the potential for big media and cable cabals to bring all this into a crushing vice to save themselves from having to adapt, we are in real trouble.

Right now, the corporations that have the most to lose from this evolution are doing everything in their power to stop it. And they could get away with it. This has happened with technologies in the past, from the telephone to radio to television to cable. I was under the assumption that the internet was different, but I was wrong. If the cable companies are successful with pushing their legislation through (and they have a lot more money than any of us), then they will turn the internet into a new cable, and they will be the key holders to the technology, not us.

Enjoy the revolution, but just understand that this fight is not over. Check out http://www.savetheinternet.com/ if you haven't already.

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Greg Carter's picture

Easy availibility is what wins, and price is only part of that. It's not that its "free", but that it's freely available. That's what's killing the old guard. They still think power is in things. It's not, it's in information. Packets, not parcels. People will get their entertainment along the path of least-resistance. And as Joss Whedon said, "you can't stop the signal".

This genie has been let out of the bottle and it ain't going back in. So let the old media whine all they want. It's a brand new world and they can either adapt or die.

Those days of watching new movies in your home are coming, DJ. It shouldn't be much longer now. Bandwidth has been a drawback along with the old-school mindset, but the pipes going into homes are getting bigger very quickly.

Greg Carter Abandon UpDown Studio The WebComic Hotness

Greg Carter - Abandon: First Vampire - Online Graphic Novel

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Scarybug's picture

Anything that decentralizes power is good, unless you're one of the few that had the power before. I <3 You, Internet!

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Nerdcore: The Core Wars

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Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Erg's picture

I am not understanding the authors point. Sure, piracy via the web undermines mainstream industries, but user created free content only competes with mainstream media. Which is not, as I understand it, a bad thing.

Re: Cult of the Amateur?

Coffman's picture

Old media was locked up too much, only the select or elite brought in. Suddenly, the doors are broken down over the past decade, while old media isn't being innovative, just copying the innovative success stories of the web.

Google will be the Hearst, Youtube the new Universal-- and that scares the crap out of them.

I'd like it if Youtube had a pay service side where you could watch new movies instead of going to overpriced theaters. Think about that..... actually the internet is purging it all and rebuilding it all over.

DJ Coffman- cartoonist

yirmumah.net - herobynight.com