Monday, January 30, 2012

So Many Bandwagons, So Little Time

"Movies are a fad. Audiences really want to see live actors on a stage."
-- Charlie Chaplin

It's fairly easy to find quotes and predictions about various inventions or methodologies that were seen as passing fads of no real importance or significance. The ones, of course, that most memorable are those that got it completely wrong. It's all but impossible to predict what catches on and what doesn't so, while it's easy to get a quick smile from Chaplin's comment, it's not really held against him in any way. If anyone were able to know the secret to taking something from a fad to an institution, I daresay there'd be a lot more people with a lot more money. But it winds up being a matter of timing, marketing, particulars of execution, championing and leadership, and a host of externalities that no one really has control of.

Think of it in relation to the comic industry's history. Martin Goodman was (in)famous for jumping on every trend he could. As funny animal comics became popular, he flooded the market with funny animal books. After romance comics started to catch, he threw out a slew of romance comics. Westerns rose in popularity, Goodman was right there feeding into it. And he kept doing that year after year, fad after fad, until the superhero genre happened to stick. And even now, half a century later, there's no way we can concretely pin down WHY superhero comics stuck fast. Had Flash been reintroduced in 1955, maybe things would have been radically different. What if Joe Maneely didn't die in 1958 and had drawn Fantastic Four #1 instead of Jack Kirby? There are a million variables that could have been different, and any one of them might have resulted in superhero comics just being the next fad on the list.

Ah, but as Alvin Toffler has taught us, things are moving considerably faster than in Chaplin's day. New technologies are emerging with such frequency now that we don't have time to sit back and really analyze them before the next one is upon us. So how do we know what's going to take off and what's going to fall flat? How do we know whether to put our efforts to A, B and C or X, Y and Z? Never mind that we haven't even heard of L, M, N, O or P!

The truth is we don't know. No one does. Stuff keeps getting thrown up against the wall; some of it sticks, some of it doesn't. I've learned from decades of experience that I am one of the worst judges of what has any sort of staying power. I have always been, it seems, running perpendicular to whatever the cultural zeitgeist du jour was. I was late to MySpace, late to Facebook, late to Twitter...

Why this is problematic for you, the comic creator (or commentator or whatever) is that a lot of these technologies are where your audience is! That's how you communicate with them. That's how you market to them. That's how you tell them how to buy your stuff. It's all well and good if you're on Twitter, but if none of your audience -- or your potential audience -- is, then it's mostly just wasted effort.

Now, some of this can be automated to make your life easier. You can have your Flickr account populate your blog which then feeds into Facebook and Twitter which gets copied over to LinkedIn... Or whatever. But the point is that if you're playing in that space, you need to keep abreast of trends. Otherwise you're sitting there like a dork wondering why no one is visiting your MySpace page.

As of now, I don't have an easy answer for you. The best I'm able to do is just keep tabs on my friends and see what they're using. Maybe it'll catch on, maybe it won't. Maybe it'll be ideal for my purposes, maybe not. But you can't sit back and assume what you heard works last week will work this week. You need to dive in and get some details as quickly as you reasonably can, get the general feel for how it works, then see if you can use that to your advantage.

1 comment:

Ethan said...

I was late to everything, too. For years, I refused to accept that social-networking was the future of communication. Then I caved =T