In an interesting collusion of events, I read an article about real-life makers the same morning I decided to spend most of the day reading Makers by Cory Doctorow.
They both touch on the proliferation of customized technology put out by people who see the need and think the meeting of it is fun; individuals with support networks they can consult, small teams of people with varied skillsets. They’re not big businesses. They’re representative of the social movement that has catapulted the term for a new company from ‘start up’ to ‘start-up’ to ‘startup’ in our cultural vocabulary. To quote from Makers, this is what the dotcom boom laid the foundation for.
Makers fill a need with their products, or at least an interest. Unlike L’Oreal, which makes everything from Lancome to Maybelline, makers make something unique, which means that anything else that comes along is real competition. There’s more drive to be better when the business is more personal.
The same thing’s been happening with publishing. Borders is bankrupt because it was not a model for the current and coming era. Author services like Lulu.com are growing faster than publishers, because authors are realizing that they can have an active role in the publishing of their book, they just may lack some of the applicable skills.
Traditional publishers have acted as gatekeepers, as arbiters of taste, but now we can find book reviewers online who review independent and self-published books, and we can find ones who share our taste in reading material. The market acts as a surer arbiter of taste than any book editor can; there’s just not enough time in the world to read all of the new material coming out. But books are the ultimate niche market: all unique, all intended to appeal on different levels to different people. Making more of the good stuff available is good for everyone.