Even if what I wrote over here is true, and Ready-Media is only aiming for the lowest end of the marketplace, what about the principle of the thing? What about the potential threat to designers’ jobs from the introduction of template-based print design? What if it’s a slippery slope?
In which case, I say to you, welcome to the club. High-quality amateur photography threatens professional photography. Free web templates mean fewer paid web designers. Cheap logos threaten designers. Content farms are killing quality journalism. And you know what? They’re all true. To a point.
It’s harder than ever to make money in any creative industry. There are two big reasons for this.
1) Technology is in part about giving tools to amateurs that mimic professional abilities, and trying to make the line between one and the other disappear as much as possible. I can do things on Photoshop that would have taken years to learn in a darkroom. My camera adjusts for the light and chooses a workable shutter speed without my interference. WordPress means I don’t have to learn how to code these pages from scratch. InDesign automatically kerns for most situations. Are the results as good as those handcrafted by the best professionals in the business? No. But they’re much closer than they were ten years ago.
Editorial design is no different in that it’s a skill that many people would find useful for much of their work, and they’d love the chance to create near-professional-looking results themselves. In fact, I’m kind of surprised that neither Adobe or Quark had already come up with similar templates to Ready-Media, even working in conjunction with Mr Black and others. Perhaps they still will. Thanks to automation, templates and technology, the general amateur level is rising, and fast. Just look at the Geocities archive versus any WordPress site you care to choose. This is how it works. And it’s not a bad thing for society as a whole, only, potentially, for some professionals.
2) Creativity is harder to make money from today because there are many, many talented amateurs out there who are happy to shoot photos or write articles or make web templates for a pittance, as it’s not their main job. And who’s to say that all of them won’t be any good at it?
What all of this means is that, if you want someone to pay for your creative services, you have to be distinctive, professional, be good at marketing yourself, keep up with the latest developments, and always stay one step ahead of whatever’s available for free/cheap. All of which I’m fully in favour of. As I said, this is how it works now, and it means that the best have to keep on innovating and improving, faster and more keenly than before, to justify their fees. As a consumer, I say hurrah.
Like everyone else, designers are nervous right now. Jobs are under threat, and nobody ever trusts the bean counters at the top. I could be very wrong, but thus far I don’t see much evidence that Ready-Media is the harbinger of the apocalypse.
Like cheap stock imagery, copycat fonts, logos by Logoworks, and SEO-focused copy, some will doubtless head in that direction to save money. These cheap alternatives often also enable certain things that wouldn’t have been affordable before. I’ve worked on several low-budget publications with high design values that would have been very difficult to achieve with the same visual verve without access to Creative-Commons licensed imagery, or the ability to shoot with cheap cameras and without the costs of processing and scanning film.
That’s not to say that these things aren’t a threat to some people’s livelihoods – ask a photographer or a web designer or even an architect. But Ready-Media didn’t invent it, and they aren’t terrible people for applying this broader truth to the print industry. It was always going to happen.
But the bigger truth remains, in writing, in photography, in design. None of these cheaper solutions are workable above a certain quality/brand threshold – and, as virtually all of my work aims to remain above that level, I’m not afraid of them either. Welcome to the future. It’s better for some, and worse for others. But whatever you do, don’t stand still.