Aldrich is an opera singer in the rural England town of WestFordShire. He isn't exactly the world's greatest opera singer, but he's definitely solid. He can command an audience of tens, sometimes even hundreds!
He recently made the once in a lifetime journey to London and saw The Best of all Troubadors Opera Group perform live in The Royal Operal House. He noticed that The Best of all Troubadors weren't substantially better at singing opera than he was, even if they were a little better to the degree that you'd expect the big city opera singers to be. But Aldrich was definitely in the top percentile of opera singers and by far the best in WestFordShire. He made a solidly good living singing for the locals. Did I mention this is several hundred years ago?
Then suddenly the telegramaphone was invented. The Best of all Troubadors could record their music onto weird disk plate things and now anyone with a telegramaphone player could play Troubadors music in the comfort of their own home.
Aldrich began to see diminishing attendance at his shows at the local Not Quite as Large Operahouse. People in the rural countryside began to realize that even though they couldn't travel to London, they could have the best of all opera singers singing opera to them for £9.97 at ye olde record telegramaphone store. Why then would they want to see Aldrich, who though good, definitely isn't the Troubadors?
So in order to save his career, Aldrich goes to try out for the Troubadors himself. If he can't compete with them, maybe he can join them?
The big day of the audition comes, and Aldrich is disheartened to see like 1000 other opera singers from all parts of England in the waiting room. Apparently every opera singer in England is feeling the crunch brought about by this telegramaphone invention and the Troubadors' new found universal popularity.
A middle aged man with thick glasses and a balding forehead walks into the waiting area. Just 3 in 1000 will be picked! It's like ye olde American Idol.
The rest will have to go find a different career that probably involves a lot less singing.
In the book The Black Swan, author Nassim Taleb discusses the increasing prevalence of what he calls "winner take all effects." The modern world is causing those in the more artistic vocations to have a lower and lower chance of success with the standard gatekeepers because they have to compete with more and more people. Though back in the day there was always a local market for reciting an epic poem, singing an opera song, or acting in the local theatre, the inventions of the printing press, voice recording, and movie projection have required storytellers, singers, and actors to have to compete with the whole world now that their craft can be packaged up and sent anywhere.
Consider how hard it is to get your novel accepted by a large publishing house, how hard it is to pass a Hollywood audition, how hard it is to get your music published by a big record label.
The advent of the internet however turns the problem on it's head. The traditional gatekeepers are losing power. Platforms like Steam and the Unity game engine allow anyone to publish a video game without going through a traditional publisher. The aspiring novelist can self-publish on Amazon without having to impress a fickle publishing house. Youtube allows anyone with a cellphone camera to do acting without the blessing of Hollywood.
But now we have a different problem. Instead of everyone competing for the approval of a few gatekeepers like Aldrich, we are now competing for the same audience.
Fortunately I consider this to be a much more tractable problem than having to impress gatekeepers. The internet is massive, and the size of following you need to create a good business is not nearly as large when you are running solo. Some of the successful solo consultants I know have mailing lists (one of the best ways to build an audience) around the ~5,000 subscriber mark, and that is more than large enough to support themselves.
And that size of audience is definitely reachable for someone who produces content consistently. As long as you bring something of value to the table, there are probably people out there who are interested.
We are in a way going back to the olden days of the local town opera singer. But instead of a physical town, it's your own little corner of the internet.
I first sent this article as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!
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