The Long Tail, mentioned on Friday, contains a link to a report issued late last year by Demos, a UK-based independent think tank. The title of the report is The Pro-Am Revolution.
In this report, Pro-Ams are defined as amateurs who make a significant commitment of time and effort to some interest or area of activity; more importantly, they are people who produce work which is of a fully professional standard.
In the past, unpaid volunteers have made professional-level contributions to many charitable activities, such as the lifeboat service, the Samaritans, and care of the elderly. But nowadays enthusiasts are also making significant contributions in a host of other areas, such as astronomy and software: indeed Pro-Am programmers who are part of the ‘open source’ movement are said to be providing the only real challenge to Microsoft’s dominance of the personal computing market.
I can't say that I am overwhelmed by the conclusions of the Demos report, which include the proposal that the British government should invest in people’s hobbies as a way to build communities. However, the report did make me realise that the Pro-Am presence is highly noticeable in the worlds of writing and publishing.
There are undoubtedly some less than wonderful amateur writers, but there are also quite a number who are every bit as professional as those who are 'successful'. Many capable writers who would dearly love to be full-time professionals are unable to achieve that ambition because of the massive competition. They simply can't get a mainstream publisher, or even an agent, to take them on. So they content themselves instead with writing a blog, or publishing their own work through one of the many channels now available, such as ezines or POD books.
The converse, I suspect, is also true in the realm of publishing. One might reasonably say that, just as there are many amateur writers who work to professional standards, so there are many full-time employees in publishing who are working to amateur standards. Eric de Bellaigue's book, British Book Publishing as a Business, reviewed at length last week, provides evidence.
Should you wish to read the whole of the Demos report (some 70 pages), you can download a free copy.