Here to Stay

This is exactly what so many people are afraid of with subscriptions. Let’s pause for a moment and look at some other examples of where people thought Apple’s App Store was going to be some sort of godawful den of iniquity (granted, with the initial onslaught of fart apps, that was a distinct possibility).

We’ve got this example about the 99 cent apps that people are so afraid of. Articulate and accurate, if I don’t say so, myself.

Then there’s some of this fear-mongering that hit the interwebs right after the opening of the app store.

Can we see a pattern here? Everyone panicked when apps were selling for $0.99, and now the dollar apps are the way to financial independence. Develop an amazing app, sell it for a dollar to a million people, and you’re set for the next few years. Sell it to five million, and you can buy a house. Subscriptions don’t need to be expensive, folks.

What will start to happen is a dramatic shift in how people actually start to read, how they get their media. The current model is, well, free. RSS dominated for a while, and Twitter started stealing some of RSS’ thunder. Some folks (like me) still like RSS, but I recognize that it’s not the only way of getting news out there. There’s a whole wide world of content that is waiting to be discovered and digested, and people who (up until now) had no way of feeling comfortable breaking into that world can suddenly have access to it in a very easily accessible manner.

Here’s the clincher. Ready?

Publishers are upset by their sudden restrictions. Just last month it was OK for all these subscription-based or -focused publishers to make all sorts of money off of their customers. There were no transportation fees, no raw material fees, none of that. Just what they paid their developers and writers, but they were already doing that. They had a low-overhead way of distributing their product to lots of people. There were, however, two problems with this model a) the previous subscription process was cumbersome at best and user-hostile, at worst; b) very few publications actually had subscriptions, and people were confused by them (Go to the site? Register? What happens when I’m on my iPad? Do I have to go through Safari?). Again, not optimal. Furthermore, there were (and are) lots of people who want to get paid for what they write, and carving out a place for oneself in the world of publishing demands a not-insignificant amount of research, hard work, and do-overs. The world of writing is a tough one to make it in, mostly because the signal-to-noise ratio is getting lower every day (as I wrote about in this post), and publishers want to make sure they’re paying for quality.

What if, however, it were easy to publish, build a subscriber base, and make a name for yourself? What if there was a system in place that exposed your work to millions of people who are already invested in a thriving digital ecosystem? People who are used to and demand curated, well-researched news sources? Perhaps people with a little more green in their wallets? Or perhaps people who are moving up in the world?

This model is not for the established and entrenched giants of publishing, who will attempt to nickel and dime their subscribers and who are too anachronistic to develop truly compelling and groundbreaking digital publications. This model is for the new media, for the folks who want to reach as many subscribers as they can with their good ideas; for the new media consumers, the folks who want those same good ideas but don’t want to load their minds down with ads about “weird belly fat tips” and think that maybe a dollar is a good price to pay for a month’s worth of strong-voiced columns. This is throwing open the gates to the publishing world and finally making it accessible to all the guys and gals with the good ideas but not enough time to eat or sleep and for SURE not look for an agent.

This is what disruption looks like.

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The Circle of Life

Came across this article on the (admittedly grotesque) Gizmodo this morning, and thought I’d chime in.

Hipstamatic generates an atmosphere, an aesthetic that ostensibly doesn’t exist in reality. Our vision only tends to resemble 1970s photography when our minds are lubricated with pharmaceutical enhancements, after all. Is it photojournalism when an image is deliberately changed to heighten or affect mood that we literally can’t see with our eyes for the sake of aesthetics and emotion? Is the definition of reality here merely confined to the collection of objects depicted in the photograph?

Staring at the photo in question, “A Grunt’s Life,” I can see how the photographer—the person who was there, documenting a moment in a time—can reasonably argue that his Hipstamatic print more accurately depicts the feeling of what it was like to be there than if he had simply taken a conventional, straightforward photograph. A photo that, from a certain point of view, is perhaps more truthful.

Here’s the deal: as technology advances, what once required a highly developed and specialized skill set will eventually have assistive software/hardware developed for it that mimics and/or replaces the majority of the skills in that set. Shooting, processing, developing, and printing a photo like this now would take a lot of knowledge and access to resources that most people are unaware even exist. Hipstamatic removes most of these obstacles and enables “average” people without these skills to create in a manner similar to a person with said skills.

I have this discussion with people all the time. There’s a sort of nostalgia that creeps around whenever technology starts to change the way people create. When writing and publishing something was a long, difficult, and laborious process, only people who were willing to invest a great deal of time into that process had their work published. The same goes for photography, painting, filmmaking…basically almost any type of creation had a “price of entry,” if you will. A long time ago, anything that was created was vetted to make sure that it was something that was worth creating.

As I said above, the evolution and widespread adoption of previously all-but-unattainable (due to cost prohibition, licensing, etc.) technology by mainstream culture has placed tools for creation in the hands of folks who do not possess the highly specialized and developed skill set that their “artist” counterparts possess (artist being a term to denote anyone who has devoted a significant amount of time to the development and refinement of a set of skills). Despite this discrepancy in investments of time and energy, there are a not insignificant number of people who have a high degree of innate artistic talent and are able to create a “product” that is similar to the “product” created by the “artists.”

This is usually where all hell breaks loose. Lots of folks decry the use of these new technologies as “cheating,” in a way. “If anyone can do it, it isn’t art anymore!” they cry, “and they have no training!” The death knell of photography has been sounded!

Please.

I’ve had this exact same discussion on the topic of writing and the impact that the internet has had on “good” writing. Many people are of the opinion that people are “getting dumber” or that our literature is “in decline,” when the reality is there is simply more of everything. There are more people taking pictures, writing, making movies, and creating than ever before. The fact that a phone can take a picture today that looks better than pictures looked thirty years ago is just a testament to the progressive iteration that takes place in technology. Nobody ever hung a photographer because he or she didn’t know how to build a camera.

What we’re getting at is that the creation of anything is getting easier, and more people are doing it than ever before. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a wonderful, beautiful thing. People get their ideas out there. I’d like to say that all those ideas are gems of knowledge and insight, but not all of them are, and that’s OK. What we have is a much larger body of knowledge to draw from, and the tools we’re using to pull data are evolving rapidly. Sure, the “overall” quality of the work is declining, but that’s only because there’s so much more out there. That says nothing about the unrelenting and constant creation of high-quality stuff. If more people have access to good technology, then more good stuff gets out into the world. That’s where tech is supposed to fit in, it’s supposed to remove barriers to that sort of engagement with the world that usually only comes with, again, those highly developed, highly specialized skill sets.

Whew.

So, when I see something that says “OH NO HE USED HIPSTAMATIC” I usually put the earmuffs on. There’s simply no place for that anymore. If people say that the photography isn’t real because the app adds things to the frame that weren’t there, then you’re going to have to chase after all the filters, all the lensbabies, all the grease-smeared lenses that are out there. Those aren’t “real” in the same way that the virtual lenses in Hipstamatic aren’t real. Or are they? In the first scenario, someone is taking a physical object and changing the light before it hits the film; in the latter, a person is applying a modification to the image after it has already been taken, but the end result is basically the same.

The most important line in the blockquote above is the one about feeling. In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, one of the main points of the novel is to illustrate the importance of the “story truth” vs. the “real” truth. Ultimately, it is how we experience things that is important, and how we convey that experience to others is critical.

As technology improves and our ability to convey our thoughts and feelings moves beyond having a specialized set of skills, we will find that the number of brilliant people will skyrocket. It may seem small, but Hipstamatic is just one of the first steps along that path.