December 2, 2011

This is question I think many creative people are asking themselves these days – whether they understand the analogy or not. What is translates to is this: McDonalds doesn’t make their real money on burgers. They make it on fries (and drinks.) However, burgers are what they are known for. It would not make sense for McDonalds to eliminate low-profit-margin burgers from the menu and just focus on the high-profit-margin fries and drinks, because it would be a hard sell to get people to come to a fry-and-soda joint.

Similar to McDonald’s burgers, there are lots of low-profit (aka “zero profit”) creative endeavors one can pursue. These endeavors can promote each other in synergistic brand-building, but people need to have at least one of these turn into a money-maker. Are you blogging to sell tee shirts or giving away tee shirts to help get traffic to your blog and generate ad sales? Or are neither existing as effective money-makers?

It’s easier than ever to throw your hat into the artistic ring these days, especially online. But it’s much less easy to find something that generates a revenue stream. You can point to just about any creative activity and there will be some people making money at it, but more and more creative markets are growing Long Tails. The result is that creative folk continue to find new ways to brand, but have greater difficulty in figuring out a way to monetize said brand.

Technology tends to level the playing field and removes a layer of gatekeepers, but also makes it more difficult for anyone to profit. “Freelance writer” used to be a reasonably common job description. Currently, it might as well be “buggy whip salesman” since so many talented bloggers are willing to compete for eyeballs at no cost.

Online comic book creators must face an army of artists willing to give away their web comic content in the hope of recognition and inkers can now be replaced by simply jacking up the contrast of pencils in Photoshop.

Another component of going “pro” being more difficult is that famous people are easily finding their way into all kinds of creative markets that they didn’t used to dominate. For famous people, the world is becoming nothing but fries.

If you look at the voice over-field, most the the players in animated films and commercials used to be anonymous. Celebrities are now everywhere in the world of voice-over. The trend of celebrity children’s books will last as long as celebrities feel like writing childrens’ books since no publsiher will say no to a pre-existing Q rating.

And I can’t help but note that is a KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGNS are very already-successful-friendly. Once again, celebrities are welcome to have people hand them money and not take financial risk themselves.

One market that does seem to be “fries” – and fries not limited to famous people – is teaching something related to creativity. Because people are looking for fries so desperately in their lives, they are willing to pay for the “secret” of fries. And they are often willing to pay people who they’ve never heard of before with suspect credentials. The more expensive the class or the consulting fee, the more reputable the teacher seems. And these people can make a killing. I’ve seen a big spike in what I call “the hope industry” – taking money from people hoping to turn things around for themselves. Instructors preaching secrets of how to acquire a life of fries – fries that the teacher him or her self was not able to find before taking up teaching.

If it seems like I’m being cynical, I am. It just really bugs me to see screenplay pitching conventions, stand up comedy courses taught by open mic-ers and generic social media gurus rolling in dough. It probably wouldn’t bother me if there was any kind of filter on these things – if there was some test that if you failed, the instructor wouldn’t take your money, but this appears to be an ever-welcoming fries market.

I’m not against education. But it sometimes feels like there is much truth to the saying “Those who can’t do, teach” – especially with creative arenas. My current philosophy is “If you can’t do, indulge.” Yes, we all should continue to try and solve the riddle of fries, but we also should try and pursue projects that really mean something to us while doing so.

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