From the community gardens of Prix Jeunesse to the slick aisles of the Vegas Licensing Show, everyone is looking for solid ground. This is the Wild West of kids’ media and there will no doubt be prospectors who come back from them thar hills with saddlebags full of gold. But there will also be entire expeditions who get stranded in the same hills and end up with nothing to eat except one another. There will be charlatans selling snake oil, lone gun men wearing black hats and saloons where you can play poker with the sheriff and the mayor if you have enough cash.
But what if you’re someone who prefers a porch to a covered wagon, a television show to an application, a book to an eBook? What do you do? How do you navigate a world in which the rules for creating and monetizing children’s media are changing faster than you and your skill set?
Here’s how: To Thine Own Self Be True. When everything around you is changing, that’s the time to stay rooted in that which you know to be absolutely true. Otherwise you’ll get blown around like a kite in Kansas and end up stuck in a tree somewhere with your tail hanging out.
Now I’m not saying you should ignore the changes that are taking place. It’s essential that you know what your industry is up to and that you use whatever new tools are available to help you make and distribute your work. You don’t want to end up like all those editors in the ‘90s who refused to learn the Avid or Final Cut Pro and found themselves cutting firewood instead of videotape.
But I am saying that only you know which of the new forms of technology will ultimately serve your creative goals and help your business. Not all of them will. And many will come and go before you even have time to hear about them.
Back in the 1970s there was a hit song in the U.S. called “Convoy” about truck drivers who communicated with each other over short-wave radios called Citizen Band, or CB Radios. They spoke in a special language that sounded like this: “Pig Pen this here’s a-Rubber Duck, we’re about to go huntin’ Bear.” CB Radios quickly became a huge trend and lots of educated people went out and bought one and stayed up late into the night talking trucker-speak with absolute strangers all over the country. This collective insanity lasted about 10 months and then the song “Kung-Fu Fighting” came out and everyone chucked their CB Radios and went out and signed up for karate classes at the YMCA.
What remained after CB Radios was our desire to communicate with one another and it could be argued that CB Radios were the precursor to things like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. As humans, we’ll always want new and exciting ways to find, talk to and get to know one another. So, yes, there will always be some kind of “social networking.”
Similarly, we will always need people who can tell stories. Not much has changed in this regard since the first cave dweller drew the first hunter chasing a buffalo with a stick. It has always been our stories that have helped us capture and bring meaning to our otherwise fleeting lives.
So if we are show makers and our livelihood is the creation of compelling characters, great music and appealing designs, I believe that it will mostly be business as usual for us in the current Wild West. Perhaps the stories will be shorter or smaller or the animation styles will change. What else is new? Perhaps we will be able to watch the story on a hand-held device instead of a wooden box with an antenna. Big deal. And maybe we’ll be able to choose from one of five thousand endings for the same plot line. Whatever floats your boat. As far as I’m concerned, a story is a story is a story. And I like to make stories.
Of course there will always be new ways of spinning our content into new types of media and products. This has been true since Walt Disney made the first set of mouse ears. Cross-trans-multi-platform-360 media is very old news regardless of the new words people try to sell you.
So when I say, “To Thine Own Self Be True,” what I mean is don’t look outside of yourself for your next move. Don’t allow yourself to be seduced by the ever-changing landscape of technology and innovation. Understand it, appreciate it and learn how to use it for your own work. But never assume that it can take the place of what makes you and your stories unique, special and valuable in this world. Remember, technology is a tool. It does not make stories or any other type of content. And content is still king.
And, happily, content is still rooted in the individual. The stories and the characters that are at the very core of every media company you can name still come from a limited number of creative people and small companies who know how to use simple tools to divine gold from the planet earth. And, even in the Wild West, that gold is still originality.