Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Thrill Is Gone

First, my best wishes to BB King’s family. When I wrote this he was battling serious health problems, and now he’s gone off to the Big Jam. But can’t you hear him singing it?

Remember how thrilling the whole idea of a digital revolution and social media used to be? One big party where everybody shared fresh ideas, important life moments and the added bonus of marketing your work for free. What could be better?

Well…once again, things ain’t what they use’ta be. The digital revolution is over and digital won. Time to forget the revolution moniker, it’s just how life is. A whole generation now in the workforce has not known it any other way. A constant barrage of pitches (and new pitchmen), messages, ads, IM’s, pokes, posts… to the point where everything gets tuned out. 
Google doesn’t just want to provide information anymore they want to own it all, and then sell your personal info to top bidder while sucking billions from advertisers just because they can. (Ads that they now know are ineffective, by the way…) 
Facebook has become akin to an extortion racket: if you have a popular business site you are no longer allowed to reach your thousands of followers unless you pay to promote posts. 
Linked In has deteriorated into phony profiles posting promos and misguided people who repost anything and everything hoping to get some exposure; meaningful discussions have all but disappeared. 
Cable companies have moved from offering a fresh new viewing alternative, to doing their best to give people no alternative except to pay grossly inflated prices. 
Apple has moved past innovation and amazing design into pushing for profits, profits, profits (we miss you Steve).
Verizon buried the desire to be the best under the desire to make the most, and publicly state they don’t need customers who complain about high prices. 
The list goes on. The big digital companies are so big, so pervasive in our plugged-in lives that you don’t hear about all the other little start-ups who hope to take back a little market share—unless you go looking for them. DuckDuck for search, or Ello for social, or a hundred others who still have that revolutionary spirit.

And then there is art licensing.

Just as creatives need to look at licensing as one leg of a many-legged platform for making a living, social media is just one leg in a many-legged platform to introduce your work to a vast world. What was a golden river of access and opportunity has turned into a tsunami of content, and being discovered while bobbing around in the raging water is difficult. And here’s a shocker for you – visibility on social media has little or nothing to do with success in art licensing. Most of the people whose names are on those products in the stores are seldom seen on art licensing forums, actually most are never seen there at all. (The flip side is also true – the most visible are not the most successful).

Likes are vanity, sales are reality.

It has long been said that ideas are worthless but execution is priceless. You need to act on your inspiration, put it into a usable form and then find a way to bring it to market. Or as is often the case now, find multiple ways to bring it to market. “I made this picture, I posted it and now I want a licensing career” doesn’t cut it, never did. Even if you did pay for a Make Art That Looks Like Everybody Else’s class. Bringing something to market is hard work, starting with testing your concept in the real world, then finding a market fit, identifying the players in that market and then getting in front of them. And that’s just the first round. Then you review the feedback, redo what isn’t working and repeat all the steps above. All while working on improving your skills. And the beautiful part is—that’s what still works. It actually helps you stand out from the crowd. 

So this is what remains after the thrill is gone. The hard part. The bump that bounces so many people off the licensing path: test it first. What all those really successful people are busy doing, over and over again. Get offline and head outside. Some of the biggest names in the business are still doing art fairs, and we often run into them at various retail shows. They are out talking with their customers, trying out new designs, doubling down on the best sellers and shelving the rest. They have Etsy followers and Zazzle sites that feed them info. Create it, test it, send it out, rinse and repeat. It may not have immediate gratification like posting a pic on Facebook and reading the accolades that follow (which is NOT qualified critique BTW), but I can assure you if you do the hard work and then manage to get that product into the market – the thrill is definitely not gone.