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Positive Feedback ISSUE 16
november/december 2004


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Auroville 34: Creative Community
by Srajan Ebaen

Enterprising folks are supposed to self-promote on occasion for that blatantly capitalist propaganda that makes things go ‘round. Especially if it's for a good cause, readers don't tend to mind too terribly, either. So let's hear it for the principle of creative community as you find it embodied in the Positive Feedback Online site, for example.

This principle is one that always looks at the glass as being half full rather than half empty. Instead of viewing competing outfits with ill-disguised suspicion and between-the-lines stabs on how one is superior and the only one doing it right, it's generous and appreciative of every member in the community. Instead of practicing The Art of War which regards the overall pie of readership and ad support as being of limited size to raise the mandate that one must at all costs protect one's turf and minimize what's left as scraps for the other guys, creative community looks at all participants (in this case press, manufacturers, retailers and readers/consumers) as one extended family who share common quarters and thus better get along.

Sure there's competition but it's viewed in the spirit of good sportsmanship. Everyone in the press loves to break a story and scoop something newsworthy. But in the end, the overall perception of "the press"—or in our case and more specifically, "the American audio press"—tends to only be as good as its weakest member.

Though I've been given a voice and pulpit on PFO, I don't have any ownership in it. This allows me to sing its praises without shyness, over how the creative community principle has been manifested. I think it deserves positive feedback that PFO, in relatively short time, has become home to a large number of contributors who perhaps lacked the formal recognition or training to make it "into print" but who all have something useful to say and say it in an entertaining and educational fashion that's charged with enthusiasm and the need to share that comes from it.

In fact, I believe it's precisely because of this non-stuffy open-door policy that PFO has enjoyed its rapid growth. Though it hasn't come up, it seems the two Daves (Clark & Robinson) don't give a damn about who writes elsewhere. There don't seem to be exclusivity rites going on to protect one's turf as though there wasn't enough to go around. Instead, it's all based on the creative juice principle. You got something to say, we give you a place to say it. You lose the spark, take a break. Wanna go elsewhere? Best wishes. Wanna ride multiple steeds at once? Good for you—don't break your neck.

This is how it should be. John Atkinson practices a similar philosophy in how he participates on AudioAsylum and how some of that participation reflects back into direct print commentary. Such participation takes time and a willingness to be questioned and criticized but he does it to an extent that's unusual for a busy man running a big ship. Bravo.

Robert Harley has vouched his special support for next year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and promised to help promote and support the event to the best ability of The Absolute Sound. Bravo again. He must have thought RMAF 2004 was a good thing for the industry at large and what's good for the industry deserves the support of those who work in it.

Obviously, support is a two-way street. One of the things that makes the press go ‘round is content and news. Dave Clark recently commented on his experience in Denver this year and how, much to his surprise, certain manufacturers treated him and his press credentials as though neither existed nor amounted to squat. That's not practicing creative community. It's not only unfriendly and inconsiderate, it's outright self-defeatist to attend a public event and then not allow the press to do what it does—gather facts; make connections; arrange for future review, interview and factory tour opportunities.

Making it easy for the press to do its job by having prepared press packages (preferably in the form of CD/ROMs since those don't take up space but can carry huge amount of data including hi-rez pix) is a far better solution to maximize one's exposure at such events. Naturally, the other major thing that makes the press go ‘round is financial sponsorship support.

It is here where the half-empty perspective tends to come up, especially with publications thinking small. If there's only x-number of dollars in the ad coffers but a growing number of support-worthy publications, how much will be left for each?

Now, what makes one publication more worthy of support than another? Do things like how easy it is to contact its principals and how quickly and friendly they respond weigh into this equation? Does it matter how quickly they turn around reviews and in what shape the review product comes back? Does it have to do with how well such a publication practices the spirit of creative community in turn?

If I were a manufacturer, I'd have to say yes to all of these issues. I'd also have to say that the reasons for supporting a publication—any publication—have less to do with how many sales are generated and far more with a general support. That operates along the lines of "these folks are good for the industry and need to stick around".

That's the creative community principle in action again. After all, how exactly do you determine how many SKU units your firm sold because of any particular ad in any particular magazine unless you supported only one publication to unequivocally tie a strong increase in sales to that singular ad campaign?

Brand building is often more intangible than hard sell-thru figures but press support itself is very tangible indeed—review products and advertising checks. With the former, certain manufacturers practice very short-term memory. Come CES ramp-up, they'll bombard every publication in the book with "come see us" missives while throughout the remainder of the year, getting them to respond to any review requests or ad solicitations is like pulling teeth. There's nothing wrong with turning down either request. Every marketers worth his business card knows how it might take 100 x no to get to 1 x yes. The secret ingredient to that sauce is responsiveness.

Getting turned down is part of the picture. It's even more helpful when accompanied by specific reasons. "You guys are too small. We don't like the quality of your writing. We can't figure out how the hell to navigate your site." Whatever. Feedback is good. No response is no good. It undermines the free flow of creative exchange. No man is an island and no company owns all the beachfront property. It's all about cooperation and communication—and the fundamental principle underlying Positive Feedback not just in name is a good reminder for how that works.

I also want to take the opportunity to publicly thank all the manufacturers who've decided to support PFO even before it had grown to its present size. Having been on the manufacturing side of the table for years, I sympathize with the question of what, as a manufacturer, one exactly gets out of supporting a publication. I mean, you get reviews whether you advertise or not; you get mentions in show reports whether you advertise or not; you might even get a plant tour or designer interview just because you've got something cool and new. If all of that is free, why the hell pay for it? And if what you do pay for isn't for any of those things, then what exactly is it for?

What indeed. If everyone practiced that level of communal cooperation, we in the press could call it quits. While we don't have anything concrete to sell—our opinion isn't for sale nor is access—we do need to offer something in return for financial support.

Every publisher is faced with deciding how to package, exactly, what financial supporters get in return shy of the paper space or virtual ad banner whose hard-and-factual pull is difficult to gauge. Having been in that position for a mere two-and-some years, I'm still green behind the ears compared to most others who work in that function. Still, I believe it's fair to say that at the end of the day, what our kind has to sell versus what we hope for in turn is far more a function of the creative community principle in action than the kind of promises ad executives tend to make to prospective advertisers.

In the end and as publishers, we simply must be good for the industry to deserve its support. There's a direct tie-in between how well a publication does and how good for the industry it is regarded to be. Readers would do well to reflect for a moment on how their free enjoyment of on-line publications such as ours and EnjoyTheMusic and StereoTimes and SoundStage! and DaGogo and others is subsidized by manufacturers. None of these manufacturers have to support us. What exactly is in it for them? I best leave it for them to answer that. But clearly, part of what's in it for them is to make sure you have continued access to our writings. And that deserves a round of applause because it's a manifestation of the creative community principle. It often acts on behalf of the whole whereby personal gratification is sometimes secondary and far more intangible than concrete.

So give it up for all the makers and retailers of the banner ads you see here on PFO and on my site. While we enjoy letters telling us that you like what we do, I think these manufacturers would enjoy hearing from you as well—that you appreciate their support of your favorite publications and thank them for helping cover our operational expenses. Because that type of feedback too is part of what makes creative community go ‘round!

Visit Srajan at his site

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