On Business: Try to Keep Up

By | Monday, April 17, 2017 Leave a Comment
I find myself repeatedly returning to ideas from Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. One idea he spelled out -- in fact, the idea behind the premise of his book -- is that the world is in fact getting faster. It's not just your perception as you've gotten older; the changes happening in the world are coming at you quantifiably faster than they used to. (I suspect it's at least partly to blame for the current political trend across the globe to veer back towards 1950s sensibilities.) Some of these changes stem from technology, and some stem from more people having greater access to technology. Regardless of where they come from, though, the world is changing quicker than it used to.

I do my best to keep up. I'm actively connected to the web probably most hours of the day, and I've got streams of information coming from multiple different channels simultaneously. Much of it is inconsequential, of course -- pictures of people's dogs or what they had for lunch -- but even the pieces that don't have a strong influence on my life can still help paint a picture of what's going on in the world.

But for people who don't/can't keep up -- and it's getting increasingly difficult to do so -- they cling to outdated ideas and practices that no longer make sense. For example, there's been talk lately about saving coal mining jobs. Except that at least a few coal mining companies are currently devising exit strategies from the business because it's no longer profitable, and in fact more jobs were lost in retail in the past two months than have been lost in coal mining over the past two decades! Trying to save an industry that actively doesn't want to be saved in the face of bigger job losses in completely different sectors makes no sense whatsoever, unless you're relying on business information that is decades out of date.

Likewise, in comics, it doesn't make sense to sell pamphlet comics to the direct market if a book's target audience is more likely to buy a trade collection from a more traditional bookstore. In terms of broader business discussions, this typically isn't a huge problem. Major publishers and bookstore chains generally have market experts who, while they might not be able to always predict where the market is headed, are specifically tuned in to the industry buzz and can suggest changes based on market shifts. As noted above, this has become increasingly difficult to do in light of the speed with which changes take place, but there is at least someone on staff whose job is, in part, to keep track of these things.

The problem comes in because of one of the other recent changes that not everyone has picked up on yet: the gig economy. We're increasingly in an era where individuals are more in charge of their own businesses, even if that business is just themselves. These are the creators tabling at shows, running Kickstarters to fund their next book, doing webcomics and trying to sort out how to make money there... These are folks who are effectively out on their own (not always by choice). They used to be in a challenging spot before, but it's become even more challenging recently.

It was challenging before because it requires a whole slew of skills they might not like or be fully prepared for. They just wanted to make comics. Which is a great ideal, but that also means sales and marketing and record keeping and all sorts of other fun stuff they need to do on top of making comics. But what makes it more challenging now is that they've got that rapidly changing landscape to account for as well. As soon as they settle in to a business model that seems to work, some external forces swoop in to change the landscape entirely. Print-on-demand did that. Ad blockers did that. Kickstarter did that. Patreon did that. Who knows where the next distrupter will come from?

But the point is that more of these disrupters will keep coming in and changing how they do business, whether they want them to or not. And that is going to make being on top of things more and more critical for creators as they move forward. Large companies not only have those experts watching business trends but they have a financial cushion to moderate fast external changes. Most creators don't have either luxury so it behooves them to stay as informed as possible alongside making comics people will enjoy!
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