I’m a freelancer, a sole trader. No, worse; I’m an artist. My life’s objective is not to earn as much money as possible.
I know, imagine!
I’ve spent my creative career finding new ways of making things (like my artwork, and day-to-day operations like admin, marketing, distribution and sales) come to life on no money. I then tell anyone who’s interested how I do those things. Mostly this receives next-to-no financial remuneration since most of the people I tell are other artists and sole traders. And besides, I like to believe I’m living in a world where we share useful things like saving limited resources (such as money).
I know, laughable, isn’t it.
You – the Salesforce, Xero and Adobe type companies* – produce systems services and products that increasingly promise to make digital day to day life easier for everyone, creative or not. And yet you choose to only make them available to people – or companies (or are they the same thing these days?) – who want to spend their entire time dedicated to making enough money to be able to pay for them. Sure, you purport to be widely available to anyone at all, offering cheaper versions. But those versions are often still out of our price range, or throttled to the point of dysfunction.
I believe this is called ‘business’.
But clearly as an artist I would have no understanding of such things. As an artist I am supposed to be the member of some kind of elite, without a care for the boring facts of financial life. Mine is apparently a life of luxury. Perhaps I bathe in your hard-earned tax dollars through (ever-decreasing) grants or the (ever-decreasing) dole. If not then I’m sure to be found sipping champagne with my fellow operatic Divas, or quaffing port against a backdrop of vast canvases at exclusive galleries.
I believe this is called ‘rare’.
Most artists sustain their creative practice by getting ‘real jobs’, writing endless (mostly unsuccessful) funding proposals and working as hard as possible to present themselves as viable options within a hugely competitive (and ever-increasing) market. This viability is supposedly achieved through writing business plans, gaining sponsorship and philanthropy, considering more commercially viable distribution opportunities for our (often niche and experimental) creations, and getting further ‘real jobs’ (especially ones in arts admin posts so we can share our passion with other creative types for next-to-no-salary).
I know this is how it really works.
Business likes scale. They like to have an idea and then repeat it ad infinitum so that the costs of production can be as low as possible. Buy in bulk and save money! Artists don’t like to make hundreds of copies of the same thing, we like to make something once and then put it down and go off to make something else. Once. Very occasionally that one thing becomes so attractive that it sells for a lot of money. More frequently that one thing gets broken down into parts so that the next thing can be made from its remains. Artists often require lots of different hardware and software tools and services in order to make a tiny part of something. Big business can get around that software problem with corporate licensing so the cost-per-user often reduces significantly (legally or otherwise).
Companies like Salesforce, Xero and Adobe* could choose to help us little people. They could provide a serious, unrestricted, low-cost offering targeted at sole traders and creatives. You know, the ones who prefer going out making sharing things with other people, far more than just making money. In the particular case of Adobe, there is little option of even a reduced package. If a student you can buy Photoshop at the reduced rate of US$249 instead of the full package price US$699. If coming to digital creativity outside of a university environment and wanting to use industry standard tools from a self-taught and self-sustaining base, you could always, oh I dunno, sell your liver.
And they wonder why piracy exists.
In Adobe’s case I have opted to use GIMP – a free alternative to Photoshop. Sure I could pirate the ‘real thing’ but then I’d only be continuing my dependence on something I can’t afford, like a bad binary smack habit. It’s OK for me, though; I only need to do the occasional touch-up or image resize. If I worked in an industry that demanded up-to-date Photoshop skills, I’d be screwed.
I’m still searching for alternatives to Salesforce and Xero. I’m still actively hunting for a system that will let me buy-in to their extended marketplaces for the uber-useful (I presume) add-ons, or that will let me feed-in more than a certain number of accounts or records per month. If you hear of anything like that, please let me know. Likewise when I find one I’ll blog about it.
Sure, these guys* didn’t invent the problem. But they aggravate it every single day. Small businesses and sole traders should have as much access to fully functioning products and services as high-end corporations. Sole trader and small business numbers are increasing all the time; the more our digital networks extend the more opportunities we have for working according to our own personal needs, from wherever we choose. The sooner these companies* recognise this, the sooner we’ll have a boost in digital economies across the world.
Want to end unemployment and piracy? Then increase empowerment and access. It’s not rocket science.
* but you are by no means alone. Feel free to add the companies that annoy the hell out of you too.
UPDATE June 7th 2012:
Yesterday I received a tweet that blew my head off. A very nice man from the States (whom I have only just recently met over twitter and had been offering suggestions after this post’s complaints) sent me a tweet (above) asking “What features you need in a CRM?” with a couple of links.
Fuzz Leonard (@fuzzleonard / http://fuzzleonard.com) has only gone and built me a CRM app! I’m floored. No one has ever just gone off and built me an app before! Sure, it’s early days and he’s now working on some more details according to my request for APIs from Google Apps, Mailchimp & social media. But. Someone Saw My Poor Bleating And ACTUALLY HELPED!
Thanks Fuzz for restoring my faith in the fact that there really are people out there who choose to help. You Rock.