David and Goliath: The Bypassing of Mainstream Business Methods
When I started using Instagram and Twitter, I saw a number of members who wanted me to follow them. Some were amateur models, who did modeling and cosplay. In some cases others were sex shows and hookups via Snapchat with their followers. I saw similar feeds for self-promoting authors as well for dj’s, dancers, and just about everything you could think except arms dealing.
As random as it seemed, it was interesting how successful some of these people got at profiting from their craft and are now doing it as full time businesses. Yet they have no connection to any big corporations to speak of. No Kodak, no IBM, no Microsoft, and no Apple. They don’t have floors of secretaries to support their media and handle their finances and no people walking about in three-piece suits.
It begged the question to me of how we average people managed to side step the mainstream route to economic success?
I Did it My Way
A year ago a friend offered me a book to read after discussion called, The End of Power. In it the author, Moises Naim, discusses the de-centralization of power happening globally across traditional institutions and how that power they do have is actually very limited. It predicted just how huge alternative ways for business would become.
I didn’t notice it myself until I started looking into online dating that I really saw what this guy was talking about. Sure there was Facebook, but that was just largely online communities of people posting statuses and pictures, but nothing for profit. I found that many legit, dating sites that wanted money to use their services were not necessarily big sites or at the least did not start out as big sites.
What was interesting about this is that back in the day, if someone wanted to engage in a side business of doing sex work, they would need to become prostitutes, join strip clubs, or do phone sex jobs(remember when that was a thing?). The first two options are not often the safest of environments in the best of circumstances between STD’s, potentially violent customers, and employers who take more of the workers’ money than they pay.
Now the internet is bypassing all of that. This is especially prominent in Romania, where many women there engage in online sex shows for side cash or full on careers. More than that, online sex shows give people looking for sex something of an intimate experience because they are enjoying in their homes instead of in dark clubs. They pull in large amounts of money because the clientele are from all over the world and not just where they live. Sex workers can enjoy themselves freely while getting paid and safe via a computer screen and distance, and the online viewer gets off.
Another avenue to bypass mainstream corporations is Youtube. Youtube began as just people posting random videos of themselves or projects that they created. These were often crude and done purely for entertainment or artistic reasons. Over time, as the technology improved, so did the quality and Youtubers started posting videos talking about their favorite show or critiquing a movie they watched or music they liked, now turning a profit as well. This affected mainstream business via word of mouth and they started getting in on the act by trying to get advertisements posted that would be shown before the actual videos, as well posting some of their own content. In some cases this was not a choice and it continues to be a personal source of annoyance. In other cases, if the Youtuber agrees to allow products to be advertised on their channels or shout outs are given to the companies, then they actually get paid that was as well.
The biggest area where I saw this affect was with Netflix and online streaming. I don’t know about you, but cable is expensive where I live and a lot of people here were frustrated by it. Yet there were no other viable options really to watch TV, until Netflix. Netflix took into account that people had specific shows they wanted to see with none of the extra ones that they didn’t. They started offering viewers who had internet the opportunity to use that service for a fraction of the price cable was charging and less hassle. Now its one of the biggest viewing services around and of course larger corporations like Disney are starting to try to replicate its success.
Breaking the Law
The concept of bypassing big business to become successful is nothing new. Many traditional businesses started out that same way. During the 80s, MTV was just a small time, cable company showing a limited amount of videos over and over again: similar to Netflix. It was no where near the giant it is now, but it utilized the new roads of cable television to ignore the larger, mainstream networks. Yes, there was a lack of resources to draw from, but it also allowed the station more freedom to show videos and programs they wanted to do.
It quickly became popular and edged out older and more traditional music sources like radio, disco, radio dj’s, and musicians who did not have a certain sex appeal. Many young musicians flocked to its banner of the moon man and his multi-colored flag. Many found success for a time through out the years. Many failed and disappeared just as quickly as they appeared. And then there were those who were able to master the visual medium like Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Now with social media and better tech, more opportunities have arisen and if a person has the drive, they can become their own mini business. It really is amazing.
:...they wanted to do it to create and share, but increasingly found that it was becoming more corporate and required learning new skill sets or hiring someone to do it for them."
Two Shades on the Same Side of the Coin
The other side to this new frontier of using less corporate avenues though is twofold. One the one hand, it has ironically become corporatized. Going back to MTV, this was exactly what happened to it. When it comes to success of new markets, big business is drawn to it like flies to a dead body. They can’t help themselves because they see opportunity to expand their wealth and influence. Again this isn’t new. They have been doing this for years through marketing and hell, that’s half of what the eighties were about afterall!
When the internet started to become big during the 1990’s, government, mainstream artist, and businesses tried to control the online world because they saw it as a new, wild west. No regulations or laws and people using the network to bypass mainstream access to products and costing them money. I remember the biggest poster boy of this conflict was Napster, where people could post music online and download it for free. Bands like U2 and Metallica fought a long time to stop this and I feel it was never entirely successful.
Youtube tried doing something similar later on because people were using it the same way they had used Napster years before. And even this was not entirely successful. Small time artists trying to make a profit struggle with people who buy their products or pictures, only to post them up later online for anyone to download them free of charge. No one seems to have quite gotten a handle on how to control something that can spawn so many outlets.
With the increasing power of the internet and globalization, the online world has become even more crazy with communities popping up here and there that are centered around particular passions. At some point, many businesses figured if you can beat them, join them, and this is where all the commercials on Youtube come in. 2016’s runaway success of the movie, Deadpool, only happened because someone leaked footage of some of the material on Youtube and it immediately went viral. There was gold in them hills and someone needed to mine it.
So the result has been much of the creative spirit that initially went into creating online became diminished due to production quality, emphasis on how many likes you got, and some internet outlets and social media becoming more regulated.
Going back to cosplay models as another example, the men and women who do it are clearly passionate in their work because they already spend a lot of money in supplies and time in making costumes and travelling. Now they have to invest even greater time to get more followers so they can continue to make the money via Twitch, Patreon, and posting pics of themselves for commissions, which itself is a mini production as well.
Becoming successful online literally has become a self-run production and only the most committed and passionate ever become successful at it.
This segues into the other aspect of the businesses: because these mini-businesses are being run by people who aren’t necessarily business trained, their interest in using them can dry up very fast. This is especially true if their viewer rate starts out low, which the case is usually, since there are other things going on in life and we all want success overnight. It becomes discouraging and soon hopeful artist start deciding to put their efforts into more worthwhile endeavors.
This is also a factor because many of the people running these Youtube, Patreons, and Snapchat channels are in their teens and twenties. These years are not known for long term, business commitments, much less having to do the footwork involved. This became a frustration for many artists who started using social media: they wanted to do it to create and share, but increasingly found that it was becoming more corporate and required learning new skill sets or hiring someone to do it for them.
Where do You See Yourself in Five Years?
So here is the real question, the elephant in the room: what happens twenty years from now?
What happens when these teens and twenty-somethings are in their thirties and forties? Will they continue their work or will they burn out and turn to something more mainstream? It is entirely possible some might start their own larger businesses based on their passions.
What will the internet and social media look like in the near future and how will future kids adapt to it? Will it be more regulated or still be the wild, digital west?
The opportunities are as many and plentiful as they were thirty years ago. Despite the differences in eras and technology, one thing remains the same. Only the most committed will truly make anything of it. And this has been the fundamental truth of any new and pioneering frontier.