Published: May 19, 2017 12:00:00 PM

01-scarlet-tenant-usage.gifSomeday soon, this generation of hyper-intelligent, semi-employed, well-adjusted weirdos won't have the money to buy tickets to the next Avengers movie.

But let's not bury the lede:

Free books are coming.

What? Yeah, buckle up, ya'll. It's unavoidable. As popular culture becomes a self-consuming snake where the fanbase can no longer foot the bill to participate in the lowest-common denominator zeitgeist, votes will be cast with wallets, and it's just going to be diligent, thrifty tastemakers and free books...

So, why is this happening?

Remember when Napster blindsided an industry of musical profiteers? Cursory research tells us it had us swapping music from roughly 1999-2001.

The internet made community, curation, and knowledge became a simpler task. For music, something as cool and integral to forming an identity, Napster bodyslammed established taste.

Where does the concept of free books factor into this? Well, we've nearly arrived.

Before we get to free books, lay your eyes on the movies dominating the cultural landscape right now: Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney Animation. Consumers have voted with their wallets on what is the most satisfactory big-budget entertainment universes. Between the lines though, amidst movie reviews, secret photos from the sets, and celebrations at conventions, are tiny "start-up" style entertainment brands are capturing just as many minds.

We're talking about YouTubers, Instagram tastemakers, and flash-in-the-pan personalities. Star-Lord might be on the Doritos bags, but these internet-famous SMB-creatives are in your phone, and your phone is in your pocket. Only the most gigantic brands can exist in the real world.

The entertainment industry heading for its Napster moment. Free video series, free music, free games, and free books are the end-game for this generation's culture.

How is the new culture being formed?


By the way, the demographic and psychographic profiles devouring all their content digitally, the cord-cutters, the brand-nurturers, the podcasters, and the YouTubers, they have no money. They need their escapism to be cheap. Google cheap / free weekend activities. There are a billion ideas cheaper than spending $30 on a 3D movie ticket.

It's breeding a generation of intellectually-sharp individuals with distaste for mass consumerism and paying off middle-men. They want to experience what life can offer for free. On a Saturday, they'll go to a free, independent art show. They'll download a local artist's remixes off SoundCloud. They'll read free books. They'll even eat avocado toast for lunch on Sunday.

Total weekend cost, fun included: shoot, I dunno, $40?

The culture is forming because we've been priced out. Fashion, thrift, taste, and intellectual identity has formed a separate collective identity. People demand a lot without paying: that's the culture.

Auteurship is the most admirable quality. Community grows around the purpose.

How do you foster a movement? You make the movement free.

How do you spread independent music? You make the music free (even the Grateful Dead knew that).

How do you spread ideas? You publish free books. You let the ideas grow, and when the audience recognizes the vision, it is folded into the community.

Don't count out reading. It's intellectual escapism. Whether high literature or YA guilty pleasures, reading is still the one to beat for those hungry for thought. Free books will be something passed around like bootleg albums in the 1960's and shareware PC games in the 1990's. These cultures formed, and are continuing to form, because they're affordable, they're an escape, and they're mentally-stimulating.

What to do now?

Support a friend's project. Support a podcast on Patreon. Fund a kickstarter. Find a local artist and buy some work. We'll give away free books and that means the value of its impact comes down to the audience's generosity and ability to recognize. That's tremendous faith in your fan-base, no matter your product, no matter your business.

There's no better future for us to pursue as living, thinking organisms.

What are alternatives? Beyond Marvel films, the creative tastes of Zack Snyder and the DC movies are the next common denominator. I'm even a fan of his visual style, but I'd never give the guy the go-ahead to decide what a kid's action figure should look like. Lord, no.

Where else can we invest our time? Those new Mummy movies? Network TV? A new Netflix show? I mean, maybe, Master of None is a delight. Let's elevate the next Aziz Ansari (who started his career doing short video for the web). Let's celebrate comedy and get our entertainment directly from the source, like Louis CK publishing his ticket sales on his personal website.

Cut out the middle man. Boost the things you like. Make your taste.

-- Alex Crumb
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