Saturday, May 25, 2013

First Principle - Always Bet on Black - Redux

No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized.

--Booker T. Washington

Having been invited to discuss solutions, I aim to summarize some of the experiences that have given rise to what I call an "open source business model". I should be able to accomplish this in three installments. (originally posted 12/20/07 - reposted 10/13/10 - one'mo gin today)
1. The power of cultural production.

2. The power of open source culture.

3. The power of creative collaboration.

So a few years ago, I'm experimenting with Content Management Systems (CMS) (the database driven backend to interactive websites) in the context of an image sharing technology. I read an article in the Kansas City Star about a comics creator in Kansas City Kansas who was experimenting with CD-Romics, or comics on compact disc. So I call this brother Anthony Jappa

Comics are extremely visual, the cover art is a major selling draw, and all-in-all comics would make perfect grist for the image sharing mill. Furthermore, I used to have a serious love jones for comic books. Long story short, though our initial collaboration did not yield a successful business model we've been friends and collaborators ever since. (digitizing covers for collectors proved excessively labor intensive, we couldn't get folks to do the work themselves, and eBay was already in full effect) And our continuing collaboration has produced a proven and successful methodology for infecting young minds with the urge to create, collaborate, and commercialize. I keep the original development site we constructed as a memento of our original scope and objectives - because where we've gone is so much beyond what this effort set out to achieve.

Back to the matter at hand. Brother Jappa is a true master in the field of creative cultural production. Largely self-taught, he has reached the stage in his career where he writes books and creates animated shorts. He earns his living doing what he loves to do. He is also one of the greatest natural teachers I have ever had the privilege of meeting. He can teach you not only the discipline, but can teach you everything there is to know about comics creation as a cultural production business, as well. It's in the latter domain that he has taught me a helluva lot about its history, its power, and changes in the nature of the thing that have resulted from monopolistic control of comics creation, publication, and distribution. The latter is the business reality against which he's had to contend for over a dozen years.

His innovative flirtation with CD-Romics was a preliminary effort to use technology to get around some of those distribution control barriers. When I met him, I was vaguely aware that the comics game had changed substantially since I was a kid, but I had no idea concerning the specific nature of the changes that had taken place. See, I was a hardcore comic book collector when I was boy. Back in the day, a dollar would get you 4 comics and an afternoon of mind expanding escape. Moreover, you could buy comics in any convenience store, many grocery stores, almost all pharmacies, they were everywhere newstands were to be found. Comics were not only the cheapest and best entertainment available to me - they became the core of my very first business, as well. By the age of 12, I had become a collector/dealer of comics. By the time I was 20, my collection was extensive enough that I was able to pay for my first two years of college tuition and expenses through the sale of much of that collection.

As anybody who has shared this addiction knows, comics are no longer ubiquitous and a dollar won't come anywhere near buying you even a single comic book. Jappa explained to me how the Marvel/DC/Diamond publication distribution monopolies had fundamentally altered the landscape of comic book availability and further, how the dominant business practices in the industry have made it exceedingly difficult for independant comics creators to break-in in any meaningful way into this field of cultural production and entertainment. For his business to succeed - and there's no question that his work is worldclass - Jappa's had to hustle and grind like a madman. Getting breaks here and there with dealers, working the convention circuit, and doing everything he can to figure out alternative pathways by which he can achieve mass distribution and proliferation of his work product.

Because my active interest in comics had fallen off after I sold the bulk of my collection, it had been years since I had paid comics any heed at all. However, I had noticed that comics were by no means as available as they once had been. Everything that Jappa taught me about the comic publication and distribution industry was a smaller scale instantiation of what Norman Kelley had written a few years earlier about the music industry.

Today, a great deal of public attention is misdirected toward issues of content in popular cultural production. Content is merely a symptom, it is not the root cause of the present malaise in popular cultural production. Control of production and distribution is the cause of the current malaise. There are worlds upon worlds of original, wholesome, uplifting, enlightening, and entertaining cultural production that never get published or put into widespread distribution. Folks lose their minds debating high/low distinctions of culture and anybody with an opinion is qualified to enter the fray. However, real practitioners and specialists in the business know that most of the actual barriers to the market reduce to business and interpersonal nuts and bolts. These include issues like;

• how artists are recruited,
• how contracts are structured for maximums profits for record firms,
• how much firms spend on the production of an artist's work,
• whether artists make their living solely by selling units or doing performances (a situation similar to that of blues musicians),
• how musicians lose the copyright to their music,
• the lack of royalty payments, and
• the Big Six publication and distribution monopoly

On a smaller scale, the comics industry is identical.

Very likely, there never will be a substitute for the paper comic that is the equivalent of the CD-ROM substitute for vinyl record albums, and the rapid and destabilizing emergence of mp3's as a substitute for CD-ROMS. But you never know. Brother Jappa has twelve years invested in the game and he's still hustling, grinding, and inovating in order to make that breakthrough. I'm going to support him with technology any and every way I know how to do.

Back to the matter at hand, the power of cultural production - one of the other fundamentals I learned from Jappa is the universality of the basic storyboard as the basis for all complex narrative storytelling. If you look into the basement of any movie that has ever been made, what you'll find that comics is the creative and preproduction grist for that creative mill. i.e., storyboards that lay out the visual as well as narrative flow that will be converted to the screen. Same goes for complex games and video games. The comics creation discipline is a fundamental prerequisite to any complex narrative cultural production that takes place in our society. It is a lynchpin of complex cultural production.

Readers of the assault know full well the power of images to manipulate and control the subliminal consciousness. As a singular historian and master of this game, Jappa has taught me a great deal about the intent and use of images across the history of comics - on both conscious and subconscious levels - to convey specific messages to the audience these comics are created to address.

Comics creation is an immensely powerful and fundamental narrative discipline that is imperative for us to master and control. There are no barriers to entry on the creation side, and we're Working overtime to figure out methods for short-circuiting and overcoming the market barriers posed by the dominant distribution monopoly. Technology is key to overcoming those barriers. The last really powerful aspect of this game is that both boys and girls enjoy and gravitate toward various aspects of the creative work involved with it. Children love to create, they love to do cultural production work, and they love to learn all the ins-and-outs of the technique involved with doing it well. It's a carrot with which draw children into an oasis of creation, collaboration, disciplined development of technique and invite him to meet and discuss ways in which we might collaborate.and last but not least the potential commercial rewards of harnessing their imaginations and plying their creative workproducts in the marketplace.

Matter of fact, it's the initial sugarcoating I've found effective for drawing children into routine use and increasing familiarity with open source technologies. We make a concerted effort to use only open source software in our digital production efforts. I'll explain this more fully in the next installment. It's important because not only do we want our kids to be creative producers and ply the workproduct of their imaginations in the market, we also want them to be creative technologists capable of directly controlling and modifying the tools used to do the fun stuff.

Work with open source tools and technologies conduces to exposure to the wide world of open source culture, as well - and that's a culture that is fundamentally all about surmounting control and distribution barriers. Our solutions will emerge from those small, dedicated crews that learn how to surmount current control and distribution barriers and collaborate with likeminded others to proliferate that knowhow far and wide...,