Sunday, December 10, 2006

If I Had A Million Dollars (I Would Not Invest In A POD Empire)

My Fantasy

I sometimes wonder what I would do if I had a million dollars. Actually, a million dollars isn't that much these days; let's say a hundred million.

I sometimes think that if I had a hundred million dollars, I would start my own media company. I would buy the rights to my favorite POD books, music, and movies (paying the artists fairly, of course; my media conglomerate is not evil). I would give these works the full-scale distribution that my favorite artists plainly so richly deserve. My taste, of course, is impeccable: just cutting edge enough to be exciting, but still accessible to the masses. As a result, money would come rolling in. The CEOs and bean-counters at those other media companies would tremble in envy, splittle delicately frothing from their lips and splatting on their expensive baby-cow leather shoes. And I, like a wise and loving father (but without even a hint of superiority, because I'm not one to gloat) would patiently explain that they, too, could have such success, if only they stopped releasing the same boring formulaic novels, top-40 pablum, and mindless action movies, and started releasing good stuff (you know, the stuff I like).

Then, aliens from Nemo Loquitus IV would fly down from the skies and give me the power to shoot diamonds out my butt (without the chafing that would probably normally result).

My Problem

That last bit is actually the most realistic part of my fantasy.

There are some in the world of POD (as I use that term) who revel in obscurity. (MC Frontalot deflates this pompous mindset in his hilarious nerdcore hip-hop song "Indier Than Thou.") However, I suspect that most POD creators and fans want the works they create or admire to be popular. That's perfectly natural. We all want to be loved for what we do, or at least for what we buy.

However, many people believe that their POD art (or favorite works of POD art) in fact would be enormously popular if given half a chance by The Establishment. That's a load of butt-diamonds.

I certainly don't deny that corporate backing and media exposure frequently accompany, and can significantly contribute to, mass popularity, or that some successes are largely manufactured. However, backing and exposure do not guarantee success. Otherwise, every major label book, film and album would be raking in the cash, and that simply is not true. Moreover, outsider artistic visions frequently scale the heights (or at least the middles) of popularity without big-money backing, particularly in the age of the Internet.

A popular work of art is popular because it appeals to a lot of people. I realize that this statement is both simplistic and naive. But I believe it also contains a grain of bitter truth. On some fundamental level, people like what they like. And while I like them very much, I don't know that a lot of other people are looking for a novel about a misanthrope bonding with the ghost of a long-dead warrior, or a no-production-value serial-killer parody that includes a sock-stealing monster (down at the bottom of the page) , or jazzy compositions about subjects like abject poverty (ditto).

My Rant (an aside)

However, I do believe that people are entitled to like what they like, without shame or apology. It annoys me when a band expresses frustration that its polyrhythmic "new sound" is not as commercially successful as the old. It irritates me every time a literary author bemoans the state of reading in this country because people choose to purchase chick-lit novels over his or her masterpiece. And critics who complain that people are getting the films (or television or whatever) that they deserve because they refuse to support the critics' own preferences absolutely infuriate me.

I am appalled by these people's lack of respect for others. Taste is a personal matter. To be sure, the works that dominate pop culture often are not to my tastes (although often I do enjoy them). But that fact is irrelevant. I do not expect anyone to apologize to me for having different or less esoteric tastes than I do, just as I have no intention of apologizing to those whose tastes are even more outre or otherwise different than mine. It is the height of condescension for anyone to say "This is a legitimate piece of art, and therefore you are wrong to like something else." We all work hard ay our jobs, and face daily strains and pressures. We are all entitled to seek pleasure and spend our entertainment dollars as we see fit. No one has the right to decide what should entertain, enlighten, or move another human being. And certainly no one has the right to make others feel guilty about their choices.

My Acceptance Of Reality

Because taste is a personal matter, I acknowledge that my fantasy media empire is doomed to failure. I like what I like, and I'm realist enough to admit that what I like probably is not going to attract legions of other fans.

I would be delighted to be proven wrong as to even one of the works reviewed in this blog. Maybe one day I will be. But I doubt that I'll be proven wrong as to all, or even most, of them.

So my dream business would not be a good investment. Even the big media companies, which specifically try to release only the most commercial works, do not have continuous success. My enterprise, which would release products based on my idiosyncratic tastes, certainly would fare no better (and, in fact, certainly would do much worse).

This is not a total defeat. I take heart in the hope that the media conglomerate business model may be dying. Through the Internet, people can find what they like, on their own, without big business -- or me -- aggregating and distributing the product for them. My prospective media empire may be going down in flames, but the big media companies are going down with it. And that's a good thing.


Chris Gerrib said...

Part of the problem with POD (in particular) and web content (in general) is filtering.

There's a lot of stuff in both worlds that's just bad, in a technical sense. (Inaudible or unreadable, as appropriate). So, reviewers are serving a critical filter purpose.

Devon Kappa said...

I agree with you that there's a lot of awful stuff coming out of the POD and web world. I also believe that there is a lot of awful stuff coming out of corporate media publishers, and out of every other size and type of content publisher in between the two extremes. Finally, I agree that reviewers serve a useful purpose in trying to highlight some of the good stuff; after all, that's why I'm doing this.

My ongoing problem -- and the problem for any reviewer whose tastes happen not to fall squarely in the mainstream -- is that, no matter how persuasive I try to be, I can't make masses of people like what they fundamentally don't like.

I guess all I can do is try to wow people with witty and entertaining reviews, so that they trust me enough to at least try the stuff I recommend. Of course, first I have to get down the "witty and entertaining" part. But, just like all of you POD creators out there, I keep plugging away . . .