This is the age of the amafessional, when amateurs are rivaling professionals in opportunity, talent and the ability to produce quality work. It’s happening in virtually every field. In areas ranging from communications to medicine to simply making things with your hands, amafessionals are gaining in numbers and the ability to market their services.
Struggling amateurs used to want to become stars, and of course some still do, but this new phenomenon is different. Millions are participating just for the fun and challenge of it–-almost like running in a marathon. “Amafessionals” include both the amateur/professional hybrid and pajama professionals, who often work at home rather than the studio or the office.
The last time we looked at blogging industry sources pointed to 452,000 bloggers who received primary pay for their services. But those sources also indicated that there was a universe of 20 million total bloggers – most doing it totally for the joy of it, with no compensation at all.
Without a doubt, these 20 million bloggers have shaken the profession of journalism to its core, especially with the rise of all-online publications. Their collective power and influence was recently recognized in the publication of FTC rules governing their behavior, adding in effect a set of standards to be followed by the amateurs.
A recent op-ed in the New York Times lamented that the “shuttering of Gourmet [magazine] reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up.”
But blogging is just the tip of the amafessional iceberg. Etsy – a site where people sell what they make – has registered nearly 200,000 sellers, and sales more than doubled in a year, all from people making arts and crafts. Here you will find $35 art works, $10 hand-made gloves, and $5 earrings, most of which are made by amafessionals who for the first time can go to a broader marketplace with the goods they make but could never get to market before the Internet opened it up.
MySpace music is expanding as amafessional bands can place their content and their songs right next to the big names. Five million artists, bands and record labels have registered with the site – or about 15% of the total active music participants. Shows like “American Idol” troll amateur markets to find the next professionals. These new sites, by contrast, have more modest goals: allowing amateurs to place their creations online and be heard by their friends, family and small groups of fans.
The trends are similar in the publishing world. On-demand publishing has created new low-cost alternatives for people to get their manuscripts published. While big-name houses are always looking for that next Julia Child or J.K. Rowling – amateurs who cross over and become bestselling authors- now, many others can enter the marketplace by getting their books self-published for lower and lower investments. In 2008, nearly 480,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from close to 375,000 in 2007. In 2008, Author Solutions, which is based in Bloomington, Ind., and operates iUniverse as well as other print-on-demand imprints including AuthorHouse and Wordclay, published 13,000 titles, up 12 percent from the previous year. On-demand publisher Lulu.com has churned out 236,000 paperbacks since it opened in 2002.
With the growing interest in e-readers, amateur publishing can become as powerful as blogging. No presses are required for purely electronic publishing, and over time, this new distribution system will have as-yet-unknown effects on the traditional publishing world. One of the most successful direct-to-consumer books actually came out years ago: “Chicken Soup for the Soul” sold over 2 million copies from its self-published origins in 1993 while the tools for all this were still in their infancy.
Similarly, advertising faces some of the same pressures from the amafessionals, as low-cost programs give consumers an increasing ability to turn out professional-looking material at costs a fraction of what they were. Vice President Al Gore, in his 2000 presidential race, was perhaps the first to send video cameras to people to make their own ads on his behalf. Not much was usable then, but that is changing, as companies hold broader contests for content.
No profession these days is immune from this trend. One of the microtrends I identified two years ago was the DIYD. or do-it-yourself doctor, who arrives at the doctor’s office complete with the diagnosis and list of drugs that need to be prescribed. With the increase in drugs being released over the counter, and the growth of Internet pharmacies where you relay your symptoms over the Internet, more and more people are becoming DIYDs and simply buying what they think they need at the pharmacy.
Amafessionalism is no small movement. In marketplace after marketplace, these people are providing trained and working professionals with some very fair – and sometimes unfair – competition. They are upending traditional business models in everything from fashion to advertising. And they are giving outlets to the creative passions of millions, creating huge new web opportunities to those who want to sell tools to the amafessionals, who are uniquely willing to spend time and money on our passions. Every toy soldier painted in a hobbyist’s garage now can have an Internet display case and potential home.
In recent years we’ve experienced the growth of the professional class as the nature of work and American aspirations have shifted. But now come the amafessionals, who could produce even greater growth.