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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The DIY Mona Lisa

It Started with a Whimper

The "Maker Movement" is getting it's legs and starting to run. At a time when most Americans have become very comfortable being able to find anything and everything they want at a big box store, some are turning back to their own creativity as a means for self expression and gratification. And now, with the availability of smart technology at increasingly lower prices, some "Do it Yourselfers" are turning their initiative into profitable business. What this means for the big picture is that the term "DIY" is broadening to include small businesses that are able to accomplish big things with the right technology. The beauty of this change is that where it may be difficult to find a job working for a large corporation in a given industry, people will instead be able to compete with those corporations by starting their own businesses doing nearly the same things.


Exhibit A: The Record Business

A prime example of this can be found in the music industry. The digitization of music and availability of cheap, but high quality recording gear made it possible for virtually anyone with some musical talent to make their own record with a sound that rivals what can be produced in expensive recording studios. Quickly, people found means of distributing their music through online stores, and various music sites. Producing hard copies with beautiful artwork, and impressive packaging also became available through internet companies that sprang up to accommodate the market demand, and this was very popular for a time. Networking to get gigs was also easy, thanks to social networking sites that allowed people to connect and get heard without leaving their living room. The "Indy" genre, meaning "independent" became a force to be reckoned with.

From The University of New Hampshire Law Review, Vol. 10, No 2: "Today...modern consumers share, purchase, and discover new music instantly through the Internet, rather than CDs. In this Digital Age, more independent artists are able to thrive because of decreased market-entry barriers, namely lower costs, fostered by digital music production and distribution." So thorough has this transformation been that the aforementioned review states of the once behemoth record companies "the traditional recording industry dominated by the major labels, is under increased pressure and on the verge of collapse." There is more music available in more styles now than at any other point in history. The marketplace is flooded with sound, and  people are making money from it. The digitization trend does not mean that more people are able to get rich because of the technology, but instead, that more people are able to make a comfortable living doing what they enjoy.


Here Comes the Bang


The book industry is quickly changing as well. Chain bookstores are closing down and one of the pressures placed on them is the digital book market. The introduction of products like the "nook" from Barnes & Noble is a testament to this. It is now even possible to self publish with ease, and distribute one's work without the need of a physical store. The digital side of the Maker Movement is already revolutionizing many markets.

But, there are still some things which presently require physical representation in a way in which books and music do not. T-shirts have this attribute. It is not likely that anyone will be wearing hologram clothing in the very near future. There is, however, a way in which the digital trend is catching up with the clothing market: customization. With the advent of digital direct printing, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their own ability to create designs and have them printed at an affordable price. Where at one time a local screen printer might be limited to printing a four color design in large quantities, today's print shop can accommodate any number of prints, down to one shirt, and with literally thousands of colors at no additional cost. This allows for print shops to compete with large clothing companies and designers in a way that was not possible just 10 years ago. By offering the coolest designs, and the ability for the consumers to customize, small businesses are able to reach the growing DIY community easily. But, just as iTunes attracts both Indy musical artists, as well as big labels, large clothing companies are also taking advantage of the digital direct-to-garment technology. The high-tech/low cost machine's availability means that a new competitive market has been birthed, one where the local designer has a chance to make his mark without relying on the good graces of big investors. This is the time of the unleashing of creativity onto the marketplace. Which begs the question, "When will you make your Mona Lisa?"

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