Chuck your Undies at some Indies: Supporting Independent Creatives

I’ve always associated the enthusiastic act of tossing underwear with rockstars and the 1970s: colourful and smelly festivals come to mind, with besotted, wild-eyed youngsters doing the flinging.

To my absolute delight, I discovered recently that the bizarre phenomenon actually dates back to 1841, and the performances of classical pianist, Franz Liszt. It seems the poor man was just as beleaguered by flying unmentionables as his much later counterpart, Tom Jones. Ever since those early incidents, commenters have been trying to account for these unabashedly public expressions of adoration — then, as now, the person hurling the underwear could not fail but draw attention to themselves, thus becoming a part of the performance, whether welcome or not.

In today’s world of online chatter and channels, this wonderfully public display of admiration seems to me the perfect metaphor. It is perhaps advisable to stress one point here — emphatically. I am speaking purely metaphorically — please don’t read this as a plea to post off your old Y-fronts, that would just be creepy.

That aside, thanks to swiftly changing technologies, the relationships which indies (independent creatives) can now enjoy with their fans are far more intimate than was possible in the past. The indie revolutions, in film, music and writing, all have an intrinsic connection with their enabling technologies. It’s not just about new devices; platforms such as Spotify, Goodreads, Reddit, and, yes, that ubiquitous monster in the room, Amazon, have all afforded artists increasingly complex ways of interacting with their fans — and vice versa.

I want to pop Amazon’s alarmingly voracious appetite for global domination to one side for a moment, and pause to pay a little homage. Because, in respect to the indie author movement, there is no doubt that Amazon has played the role of a friendly giant — a kind of BFG for writers. Offering a 70% royalty share for ebooks, in the author’s favour, compared with the 8% typically garnered from traditional publishing deals, Amazon has, quite simply, been a game changer. This, combined with new printing and distribution services, such as IngramSpark who alone offer 39,000 outlets globally, has led to the rise of the author-preneurs — flexible creatives, in business for themselves, and driving their own publishing decisions. Suddenly, not only can authors make a living from their writing, but they also have unprecedented freedom to make their own choices about the professionals with whom they wish to work. For this reason, many are now preferring the term ‘indie’ authors rather than ‘self-published’ — after all, it’s not really self-publishing if you are collaborating with a team of industry professionals.

As with the music industry, the term ‘indie’ suggests a certain attitude, encompassing a strong desire for creative control, independence, and self-determination. Mark Coker notes, we seem to be in the middle of a transition, from a publisher-centric world to an author-centric world, and I would argue that the desire for creative freedom is at the very heart of this shift. No longer seen as the last choice for failed authors, independent publishing is becoming the first choice for writers who want to do things differently — authors who want to embrace the exciting changes in technology and reading practices, while maintaining complete creative control of their products, from conception to completion.

Since DIY is a quintessential trait of New Zealanders, it is no surprise that so many authors in New Zealand are joining the indie revolution. But for me, it’s not just a case of gaining access to readers all around the world, while remaining loyal to New Zealand by using talented kiwi professionals; there are some ethical considerations as well.

First, let’s take the environment. There’s no doubt that downloading ebooks is a better choice for our planet. However, thankfully — for those of us who still relish the experience of holding a proper-smelling book in our hands — indie publishing has also given rise to the ‘print on demand’ model. With POD, a book is only printed when there is an order from a reader. That means no more book pulping! None of that ludicrous waste of resources, where brand new books are returned and pulped in the millions, simply because the bookstores need to make room on the shelves for the next big thing — which might not sell either.

A further reason to love the indie revolution is its impact on diversity. All sorts of different stories are now being told, by all sorts of people from a wide variety of cultural and social backgrounds. It’s not that the gatekeepers have entirely lost control; there are just a lot more gates these days. Books are available now that never would have been possible even a few years ago. And yes, some are an absolute heap of rubbish. But, importantly, the power to decide which ones has swung firmly towards the readers. As a teacher of English Literature, and lover of the classics, I have certainly been guilty of cultural snobbery in the past, and used to sneer at the very idea of self-published books. But, boy has the world changed! Not only are traditional authors getting back their publishing rights in order to ‘go indie’, or ‘hybrid,’ there are also hundreds of brilliant new authors taking the stage.

As I hope I’ve made clear, my enthusiastic exhortation that you chuck your undies is not literal. Rather, I invite you to join me in spreading the word about aspiring indie artists, whether they be music bands, filmmakers, visual artists, or writers. These creatives don’t have massive marketing machines behind them, and they need our help in reaching their audiences and building a sustainable living. Put simply, discoverability for indies means they can keep creating the stuff we’d love them to keep creating. And the price for our support? Well, we get to choose that, too. It can be remarkably low — certainly much lower than the cost of a new bra or pair of undies — or even free. So, I challenge you to get on board the indie revolution! Discover somebody new, and tell the world.

Here are some ways you can support indie creatives.

  • Buy a book, single or subscription, either for yourself or somebody else
  • Write an honest review, or email constructive feedback
  • Like and/or comment on a website — or, even better, email or tag a friend you know will love the product
  • Ask your library or bookshop to stock indie titles (indie bookshops need lots of love too!)
  • Go to a gig – and share the experience
  • Look inside! Judge on quality, not price. Authors often choose to reduce prices, of ebooks in particular, to attract reviews and build readership – so price is not a reliable marker of quality
  • Sponsor an indie project directly, via crowd-funding or Patreon