“Amateur” isn’t supposed to be a dirty word. Its origin comes from the Latin “amare,” meaning “to love,” which in turn leads to the noun “amatore” — “lover.” The term “amateur” itself, then, is rooted in the idea of a person doing something for the purest reason possible—because they love it with a passion.
Unfortunately, many modern professionals tend to take a slightly dimmer view of amateur practitioners in their field, and nowhere is this more evident today than the creative and content industries, where blogs and social media platforms have granted anyone with a keyboard and a pulse a publishing platform for their ideas—much to the chagrin of some industry veterans.
An Exclusivity Crisis
Video game designer Tadhg Kelly, writing for the website GamesBrief, posted an article in 2012 titled, “Why Pro-Amateurs Are the Future.” The piece was about the fears of creative professionals toward the new generation of “digitally empowered” amateurs; his words will likely resonate with all manner of content creators, not just gaming industry insiders:
Creative industries tend to be like clubs. You can get into the club in many ways, but all of them are equally difficult. You’ve put the time in, done the training, had the lucky breaks, struggled and finally made it . . . [Now] we are pros. We are ‘in.’ And we are aware that there are so many more people who are not ‘in’ that would like to be.
Part of being “in,” Kelly observes, is the sense that the club can’t get too big, or else “in” will be roughly indistinguishable from “out.” Not only that, but as piracy, outsourcing, and cheap content devalue professional creativity, he says, declining revenue streams mean that the pool of creative professionals who can be considered “in” by virtue of making their living solely from their chosen area of specialization has declined steadily in recent years. Kelly continues:
Those who are ‘in’ also feel squeezed by something else: Democratisation [sic] of tools. It’s bad enough that they have to deal with a loss of revenue, but a reduction of difficulty in getting into the club threatens to increase its size many times over. The future is a world awash with low-rent eBooks, GarageBand music and GameMaker-developed games. Quality will collapse, and there will be no future for the professional anymore.
It’s important to note that Kelly is playing devil’s advocate with these points. In fact, his post actually argues in favor of the “pro-amateur” as an empowered market-builder and source of relentless innovation: “For most, those days of a publisher acting as an angel investor to an artist while they hone their craft are over,” he concludes. “The publisher can’t afford it and the pro-amateur doesn’t need it.”
Quality Content: A Matter of Taste?
Of course, relevant and game-changing work from creative people who lack formal training isn’t a new phenomenon: the list of influential authors, artists, and businesspersons who taught themselves their craft could go on for pages and stretches back to the Renaissance and beyond. Creative professionals intuit this on some level, and the ones who work from a place of passion for their field generally remain ready to cheer on great work from all corners. Just as few serious moviegoers or art lovers would dismiss work from Quentin Tarantino or Frida Kahlo because they taught themselves their trade, I’ve yet to hear a talented marketing professional dismiss brilliant copy because it was created by an amateur.
Perhaps it’s fair to say, then, that professional content creators don’t really fear amateurs putting them out of work—we fear client confusion and apathy amidst a numbing array of options. We worry that clients don’t know exactly what we do and don’t share our “enlightened” definition of what makes for “good” and “bad” work. In marketing, for example, does good copy have to be gripping and grammatically flawless, or is it good enough if it illuminates noteworthy topics, generates page views, and leads to conversions?
Fortunately, as analytic tools and search algorithms get smarter, the gap between quality content and content that simply “gets the job done” continues to widen. Google, for example, continues to update their search algorithms in an effort to weed out “churn-and-burn” SEO pages and prioritize quality content from authoritative sources, while modern digital marketing tools allow companies to see not just their page views but how people interact with their pages and how frequently they linger on and share sections of content.
These advances in technology are continually working to make low-quality and highly-visible content mutually exclusive—relegating some of the most egregious “quantity over quality” or “immediacy over quality” marketing and content creation tactics to a footnote from a more primitive age of web browsing.
We Have Much to Learn from Each Other
While advancements in technology will presumably continue to make search results smarter and boost the value of quality content over the long haul, the fact remains that the old barriers to professional visibility are gone for good. The ease of self-publishing and self-marketing through social media and other digital platforms means that self-taught “amateurs” will have more ways to distribute their work, get feedback, and refine their craft than ever before. No longer able to bank on exclusivity as a stock-in-trade, content creators will have to bolster their resumes with cross-disciplinary skills, data analysis abilities, and familiarity with emerging social platforms to distinguish themselves from a teeming crowd.
Likewise, though, the ongoing evolution of search engines and analytic tools will continue to weed out unpolished and ill-researched content, so it’s increasingly incumbent on serious amateur content creators to know the fundamentals of their craft—it won’t be enough to just exist anymore. As much as the formally-educated will live and die by their ability to stay on the cutting edge going forward, the most successful “pro-amateur” content creators may shine for their ability to “kick it old school” with Messrs. Strunk & White.*
*Or, as our Managing Editor is fond of advocating, Ms. Hacker.
Kelly, T. (2012, Jan. 24). Why pro-amateurs are the future. GamesBrief. Retrieved from http://www.gamesbrief.com/2012/01/why-pro-amateurs-are-the-future/