It was the inherent beauty of the web. I had access to the same tools and the same publish button as any big time brand. As an indie player, this was incredibly powerful, and in many ways, that levelling of the creative playing field was what got so many of us so excited about this joint in the first place.
But I’m sad to say, those days are long gone. I’m one of the lucky ones. NextDraft.com is sponsored and I have enough capital to make some pretty cool apps and keep my site fresh. But I can’t keep up with all these platforms, each requiring a whole new set of code with a never-ending series of updates; all of which take time, all of which take money, and all of which — at least in the case of Apple — must be approved (by reviewers) and promoted (by editors) in order to make even the faintest of sounds in a forest of thousands of apps in the same category as mine.
Today, a new platform launched. I just got my developer email. Great news. I can take what little margin I have in my business and rotate it into yet another app — this time for a watch. And even if I do it, that won’t put my app on equal footing (or wristing) as the bigger players.
At the Apple event showcasing the watch, Tim Cook and team demonstrated a lot of cool apps. But none of them were mine. Don’t get me wrong. I’d do the same thing if I were Apple. Give your biggest and best partners first dibs on designing apps that will be featured. It makes sense. And some of those apps are made by companies in which I have investments. So good for me the investor. But bad for me the writer and publisher.
Back in the day, no one got a heads up on anything. No one got to develop for a platform the rest of us didn’t get to access until after it launched. No one had to be approved to get put on the web. No one had to convince anyone else to feature them in a store in order to matter. Even writing this, I worry that someone in the app store might be less likely to put myNextDraft app on the front page (where, with god — who I imagine having much the same voice as Jony Ive during the demo movies — as my witness, it most certainly belongs).
Does this make it impossible for an indy player to succeed? Of course not. But it makes it a hell of a lot harder. What kind of a system do you have when existing, large players are given a head start and other advantages over insurgents? I don’t know. But I do know it’s not the Internet.
I have an app with more than a hundred thousand downloads, and my newsletter is widely read. I’m good. But I still find myself longing for the Internet that wasn’t entirely rigged for deep-pocketed mega companies, or the startups which they choose to back.
That was the Internet I signed up for. And back then, the beauty of it was that I didn’t have to sign up at all.