The struggles of companies in the preschool space have been well documented this year. The bigger ones appear to have fallen hardest and some of the most brilliant people I know are now unemployed or working in jobs that take little advantage of their unique creative gifts. And, these days, working for a big broadcaster or a toy company can be as vulnerable a position as working for an indie. A British colleague of mine put it this way recently: “You can always tell how bad things are by how many consultants you meet.”
But, as I watch the sunrise from the window of my United Airlines flight heading for Sydney, I feel oddly hopeful. It’s not that I or Little Airplane are immune to the forces that are impacting so many others, we most certainly are not. Rather, I just accept we are all living through a time of great change, a time for rethinking our entire industry, and the loss of so many great companies is simply the brush being cleared away to allow for the growth of new and unexpected opportunities. What will these be? Oh, well, they are for us to uncover. Nobody knows what they are. And I mean nobody. But my own belief is that the smaller and closer to the ground you are, the better chance you have of spotting them. That is if you are looking.
Whether we want to be or not, we are all like those early American pioneers who headed West in covered wagons, not sure what they would find. Some didn’t make it past New Jersey. Some settled down in the Rocky Mountains or planted corn in Iowa. But others made it all the way to California where they found gold in the rivers and their descendents learned how to surf and ride skateboards.
My point this week is simple: Though times may be hard, the technology is new, the audience is new, and the number of ways to create, share and monetize content has never been greater than it is right now. This is no time to be looking wistfully in your rear-view mirror at easily funded productions or pick-ups that were based on good ratings rather than good toy sales. No, this is a time to be experimenting in the great Petri dish of children’s media. It’s a time to be making your work in your way. You are not beholden to any broadcaster or any old model of distribution. You are nothing now if not free. And, as long as there are kids out there being born and going to school and owning computers and phones, there will be new opportunities to connect your original work to their world.
So, as my plane touches down in Sydney, I feel excited and inspired. My creativity and your creativity have never been more valuable than they are right now. We have a once in a lifetime chance to remake our industry, from the way that children receive stories to the way that they learn. In the words of one of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke:
What slides away