Understanding the Storytellers’ Marketplace

Understanding the environment in which the twenty-first century storyteller works makes the difference between whether we master our work of choice or whether we are mastered by the very influential forces within which we practice our craft.

The marketplace rules, as it has always done, but in this digital age, the marketplace is no longer limited to the public space. The translation of analog and brick and mortar entities to digital has demolished the boundary between public space and private space and allowed the public space – the marketplace – to infiltrate the private space. Digital technology now acts as a gateway between the formerly discreet private and public spaces, mediating the public space/private space dichotomy which used to be the paradigm of the old division of labor based on race, gender and social status.

Technology not only mediates the divide, transforming the rigid glass wall to a more flexible revolving or sliding wall (because the boundaries have not actually been removed; they just appear easier to navigate) but has enabled the private space to become transformed into, or more closely linked to, the centralized public space.[1] Anyone possessing talent and ability may align themselves with the centralized public space by buying into its ideological imperatives. But it is no longer necessary to buy into the ideologies of the public space. Revisionist narratives meant to restore the sovereignty of oppressed cultures and nations have made it possible for anyone to traverse divergent and authentic pathways.

The centralized public space – the marketplace – is evolving into a purer, ideal form of capitalism as it comes increasingly under the regulation of social media. Ostensibly designed to enable communication between and among peers in a more or less private setting, social media have turned out to be the perfect means by which marketers, working on behalf of both large and small corporations, or working independently as solo marketing “experts” or marketing companies, can promote “a common social-psychological outlook” (Brady, 1943, p. 3)among peoples formerly separated by social and geopolitical inequities. In addition, social media platforms wield tremendous power in the marketplace because of the marketing imperative to go where the customers are. By making it possible for business to go where the customers and clients are perceived to be, social media have allowed business owners to infiltrate the private space, making it not so private anymore.

Within this not-so-private private space, there has been the emergence of an independent contractor industry featuring manuscript editors, illustrators and marketers, which has facilitated the creation of independent publishing industries comprising small presses and production companies across artistic and entrepreneurial disciplines, so there is the production of books, movies, music and art in the artist’s private home/studio and distribution through channels created by and linked by technology.

An interesting paradox is that a significant amount of this independent production is couched in what seems to be a subversive, dissident politics, but in many cases, when their narratives are deconstructed, it becomes clear they do not truly challenge the status quo. There are some genuinely subversive products, however, which do challenge the grand narrative of the status quo, which would otherwise be choked by the big players which command the greatest market share, and never be heard. Thus, it’s important that storytellers develop the knack for being able to distinguish between a true critique of hegemonic production and the many sleights of hand  which do nothing but reinforce discrimination and inequality. The L’Ouverture storytellers website provides the tools to empower people to crack the codes of hegemonic production and engage in fruitful critique. One important point to bear in mind is that the rulers of the roosts are not the artists or the marketers, but ubiquitous and enormously capitalized digital entities such as Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Amazon, which facilitate the creation, sharing and distribution of content, and more importantly, capture the minutiae of people’s everyday lives.

These multinational entities, heavily invested in information, big data, finance, surveillance, pharmaceuticals and space travel are the true rulers of the marketplace. They represent an evolved breed of capitalists, who have made it possible for organized business to achieve its cherished ideal of pursuing business power while expressing social philosophies meant to neutralize challenges by the people to that power. This is capitalism in its most subtle, most mature form. This is the environment in which the twenty-first century storyteller works, and understanding this makes the difference between whether we master our work of choice or are mastered by the influential forces within which we practice our craft. I think it’s good to keep an awareness of this context in mind as we pursue our calling. As storytellers, we’re working in an environment which is both complex and insistent. We cannot afford to ignore it.

The twenty-first century digital age has transformed the publishing industry by re-visioning the role of its gatekeepers while reformatting the assumptions by which it was once governed. This means anyone, and not just those the establishment has deemed ‘smart’ or ‘talented’ can write a book and be published, and this in turn means that everything a storyteller creates must be political, must be authentic and thus, competitive at the point of her intention to tell that story. The author, in addition to mastering her craft, must also master the environment in which she practices her craft. This means she must move on to the third step toward putting out her product: Mastering the storytellers’ body of knowledge.

[1] The idea of the public space being dominated by giant entities which represent large monopolistic industries was suggested by Robert Brady in his study entitled Business as a System of Power (1943). Brady’s classic study on the political economy of Western capitalism and the rise of “bureaucratic centralism” describes business as a large “system,” with a centralized core and “webs of influence” (p.3) spread out throughout national and international territories [something like an economic giant squid].