Storytelling in a “Disruptive” Economy

Disruption has less to do with a new product or novel technology and more to do with a process embedded within the capitalist construct itself. As long as we continue to live in a capitalist economy, new technologies will be rolled out that will continue to alter the way we write and publish.

Writing a book is an important aspect of self-actualization, self-validation and professional development. A book bearing an author’s name is tangible evidence of her credentials, and proves her to be a woman of letters, educated, intelligent and civilized.

But an author is no longer only someone who writes books. The disruptive entrepreneurship which characterizes our twenty-first century digital economies has radically altered the way people create and receive information, as well as the speed with which they process it. Twenty-first century technologies have permanently altered the way people read and write. And learn. And think. Technology has altered the author’s role in the economic system.

When I speak of a digital economy, I refer to an environment in which analog and physical content is being translated into digital code, and analog and brick and mortar entities exist in uncomfortable proximity to their digital counterparts and rivals. Authors must be aware of the disruptive element of our economy because disruption, which lies at the heart of capitalism, has always taken place and will continue to take place. A capitalist economy will always continually produce disruptive technologies. This is because disruption, also known as creative destruction, is a process occurring mechanically within the economic structure itself. Josef Schumpeter (1942) explained that this happens by “incessantly destroying the old [way of doing things and] incessantly creating a new [way].” This is a process known as a dialectic.

In the cold world of capitalism, entrepreneurs must adapt to the new technologies or be squeezed out of the market. Sylvain Bureau, writing in M@n@gement, a journal which publishes scholarship on entrepreneurship, observed that the entrepreneur, that is, the creator of the high technology platforms which are attempting to redefine reality, “must alter and transgress some of the operating rules of an industry in order to change the status quo and allow innovations to occur” (Bureau, 2013, p. 208).

This means disruption has less to do with a new product or novel technology and more to do with a process embedded within the capitalist construct itself. For the author, awareness of this fact is important because our stories are not complete until our audience has received them, and our audience receives our stories through the continually emerging disruptive technologies.

Within a digital economy, people enjoy the work of their favorite authors through the media of books, newspapers and magazines transmitted scribally and aurally through e-readers, or their phones, laptops and other electronic devices. Entire libraries can be accessed digitally from computers and mobile devices, and schools and universities have integrated digital technology into the delivery of education to give learners expanded tech-driven access to knowledge. Each time a new technology is rolled out – for example, a new kind of phone, or a new reader or app, or a new medium for communicating ideas, such as augmented reality – there is an alteration of the manner in which our audience receives our stories, either in the way an existing medium works or in the creation of a new medium.

Technology will continue to alter the way we write and publish. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality and blockchain technology, will further alter the way we think about, create and distribute stories, and international big businesses are making multi-million dollar investments in the development and deployment of these technologies.

The disruption of the old paradigm within which the word has been traditionally contained has ushered in a new paradigm in which the writer has been emancipated from the (safe) constraints of the publishing house and catapulted toward the (risky) freedom of independent publishing. This has happened through the alteration of the role of the ‘traditional’ publishing house by the entry on the scene of platforms by which any writer can independently publish their work. Smashwords, the most well-known of these platforms, and Amazon, the largest of the book distributors, were created for the specific purpose of enabling authors to publish and distribute their own work. Smashwords and Amazon succeeded to such an extent they have forced ‘traditional’ publishing houses and booksellers to completely revision their place and status as gatekeepers of knowledge and culture. They, along with other disruptive enterprises such as Google, Facebook and PayPal, to name just a few of the most influential of them, have ushered in a purer, perfected form of capitalism, and are prominent players in the maturing digital economy. They have helped to normalize the digital economy by making the average person feel they have a place and stake in it.

Within this infrastructure, the author has evolved into the storyteller, and the storyteller has evolved into the independent publisher, a new kind of entrepreneur rising from the rubble of the old paradigm. In many cases, an unwitting entrepreneur, one who would rather contemplate the possibilities of a story arc than the exigencies of a marketing plan, but most certainly an entrepreneur. Those storytellers who do not make the transition will be shoved to the fringes of the marketplace. Those storytellers who intend to make the transition should take the second step toward putting out their product: Understanding the Storytellers’ Marketplace.


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