In the beginning there were only storytellers and those who made up their audiences. Then the storytellers learned to write and the audiences learned to read.
Next came the middlemen offering bags of gold and countless ideas on how to bring these two sets of people together more effectively. Some offered to print the words, design covers and transport the results to the audiences. Others offered to open shops where the stories could be displayed and promised they would be able to ensure that the stories were talked about and praised by all the right people.
Then they offered the possibilities of displaying the most favoured stories on stages and screens, building cinemas and theatres for the audiences to come to and inventing radios and televisions which would carry the stories into people’s homes.
All these services that the middlemen were offering were so useful to the storytellers and their audiences that both became lazy, willing to allow the middlemen to do all the hard work, leaving themselves free to do the things they liked the best – writing and performing, reading and listening.
The middlemen grew more and more powerful and soon the storytellers were more worried about pleasing them than they were about pleasing their audiences. The business people became the ones who decided what stories would and would not be told.
The storytellers spent all their energies trying to impress the middlemen and trying to persuade them to help. Those who failed to do so grew despondent and bitter. Then, when the middlemen became too busy to read everything that was sent to them, the storytellers had to turn their attention to pleasing the agents who sprang up to serve the publishers.
And so it had come to pass that it was now the poor storytellers who were offering their services to the middlemen rather than the other way round, and the audiences could only gain access to the stories that had been blessed by the middlemen.
A lot of people were able to make a lot of money of course, because that is what the middlemen are particularly good at, but this was not the way that things were meant to be when the storytellers first started and they began to feel ill at ease.
Then one day, in a dazzling flash of light, the internet galloped into everyone’s lives and suddenly the middlemen with all their bags of gold didn’t seem so important. Their services did not seem quite as useful because the storytellers found that with a little more effort they could go straight to their audiences again, using a service which seemed to be almost as free and open as the country roads they had strolled along from town to town before the middlemen first arrived. Self-publishing, which had been damned as mere vanity during the reign of the middlemen, suddenly seemed a perfectly reasonable way to lay your goods out for the public to view.
As with books, the same thing seemed to happen in television. Storytellers no longer had to have the approval of any commissioning middlemen if they wanted to make a programme, they just needed a camera and the ability to put the results on YouTube. Maybe this finally is “The Age of Aquarius” that we were all dreaming about in the sixties.
Those middlemen will always be there, of course, offering the gold pieces needed to keep the storytellers alive while they seek out their audiences. Undoubtedly they will come up with new ideas on how to help with the distribution and promotion of stories, but hopefully this time the storytellers will remember that it is the middlemen who have to sell their services to them and not the other way round.