A few years ago I read an article about The Small Corporation. I wish I’d saved it. The jist of it is this: We’ve reached the end of the age of giant corporations. The future is for small companies and individual entrepenuers.
The reasoning is simple:
Before the 19th century, the individual was fairly self-sustaining. We grew and hunted our own food, built our own homes, and there was really little else we needed. We could trade or sell our excesses to buy the things we couldn’t make on our own.
Starting with the Industrial Age, the invention of the automobile, electricity, etc., there were far more things we needed and far too many people needing them. So we solved the need of mass production with the assembly line. Men worked at one particular task, were paid, and used their money (or better, their labor) to buy the things they needed.
That will probably never go away. But two interesting developments have changed the overall structure of our society:
1. Automation has led to far fewer people making the same number of products.
2. This same automation, along with computers, the internet, and low cost equipment mean that many jobs can now be done by one person or few people from their homes or small shops.
One man or woman with a computer and a CNC cutting machine can produce thousands of small parts per year.
Sewing machines, some as high tech as the CNC cutters, can be all the equipment one needs to be a one-person clothing manufacturer.
And, of course, a writer can sell millions of copies of his book without ever printing a single piece of paper.
This move toward the small company or one-man business has been going on for a while. Lately, we’ve dubbed ourselves “Indies,” or the independent entrepenuer.
It is not attack on big corporation or big publishers. They were all needed when there was simply no other way to get our products and talent in the hands of paying customers.
But that’s no longer the case. The trend away from publishers and toward the indy is a natural shifting of economic tides. There is no stopping it, not unless you can shut down the internet today.
Naturally, there will be those who rage against the indy. They’re comfortable with “the way things have always been.” I can’t blame them. It takes decades to build a business and a career. No one likes to be told that they cannot continue to do the thing that has always made them succesful.
But again, that is the nature of a free market. Men and women have always been forced to change jobs, careers, or even entire industries since Adam had children and an economy was born. We’ve all sat in some sort of economics class and heard the tale of the buggy whip factories at the turn of the 20th century.
We’ll always have buggy whip factories. Right now, the ones we are most interested in are the book publishers. We have friends there. We share their passions. We love books. We love reading them. We love writing them. I have faith that our friends will figure out how to survive in this new economy. There’s always a new need. For us, the needs are editing, cover design, dealing with foreign translations, movie rights, etc.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that every single person currently employed in a big publishing house has another opportunity waiting for him or her. Eventually–soon I think–they’ll work out the numbers and realize it’s time to make a change. They’re smart people. No one really goes down with the ship around here. In fact, most of the ships will probably just change their business model and find other ways to be useful.
Everybody wins. Most of all, people who love to read win. They’re getting quality entertainment at a very low cost again. As it should be.
So there’s no reason to rage against the indy. Or against the publishers. When it comes right down to it, the only thing separating us is a company name. And those come and go.