Any Profit in Being a Prophet?
How do you pay your bills? Got a job? A stipend? Live off an annuity? Receive interest income? Collect rent? Turn in recycling? Stand on street corners with a sign?
Me, I don’t have those sources of income, although earlier in life I held a lot of odd jobs like most people struggling to establish themselves in any hard-to-break-in profession.
I make things and try to sell them, things that are mostly written or filmed.
I’m an artist and a communicator.
Of all the various job titles I’ve put on my resumé, this is what it comes down to. I’m a writer but only on rare occasions has someone else hired me to write.
I’ve written, produced, and directed a movie — but I hired myself on that gig.
So if I want to stay in business, it’s Job One to create a brand out of the name I stamp on my products: J. Neil Schulman.
On occasion, when I had money, I’ve engaged the services of professional publicists for projects I’ve worked on — most recently, in 2007, when Nichelle Nichols and I were bringing our movie, Lady Magdalene’s, to the DragonCon in Atlanta.
But most of the time, I’m on my own. If I don’t promote my brand, nobody else will. I’ve had to learn the skill sets of writing news releases and ad copy, graphic arts production, website design, and publishing tools.
That’s why I have lots of websites promoting me and my products.
That’s why I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, IMDb, Withoutabox, and elsewhere.
That’s why I spent years of my life working to start up media companies to open up new distribution channels that don’t require millions of dollars in capitalization.
A lot of that work was in the field of eBooks — but that word hadn’t yet been invented when I started my first company to try doing it in 1987. Back then I had to find my own marketing label for this new product, and I called them “paperless books.”
Yesterday Steve Jobs of Apple stood in front of assembled media who had gathered because he can afford his own publicists, and showed off his new product, the Apple iPad. It’s just about the ideal device for reading paperless books. I know because I’d needed such a device to make paperless books as attractive a product as printed books, going back to 1989, when I first started selling them.
Here is a description I wrote in an email on July 23, 1997, of what an eBook reader would have to be:
I have always thought the e-book reader needed the following features:
Weight — no more than 2 lbs (the weight of a large hardcover) with under 1 pound preferred (the weight of an average hardcover).
Screen size needs to be about 9″ vertical and 6″ horizontal, with the maximum dimensions of the device being 10″ X 10″ X 1″. The space under the screen needs a touch-control mousepad and some basic function keys like arrows, home, end, page up, page-down. The QWERTY keyboard should be a pressure-sensitive slate hidden inside the device and slide out when needed. The screen should be a good quality color-VGA backlit screen. There shouldn’t be anything like a flip up or flip out cover or anything that would make it inconvenient to read while lying down or in cramped quarters. It should operate for about five or six hours on a battery charge; and be able to shove in a replacement battery pack in seconds.
The software? Probably the Mac OS or Windows 95 or whatever succeeds them in the marketplace. The software needs to be able to run web browsers such as Netscape and Internet Explorer, Adobe Acrrobat’s reader, and probably MS Word 6.0 or later — the three current distribution formats.
There needs to be an easy way to get data in and out, and save to disk: probably an internal modem or a PCMCIA card port. And, it would be nice if there were a floppy drive so books could be easily transferred from other laptops and desktops.
In other words, it needs to be a fully functional handheld computer, but optimized for reading rather than other uses.
Yep. And, it needs to sell for $500 or less.
THEN we’ll have a device that can compete with printed books.
I put that on my Facebook page yesterday, with a link to Apple’s product page for the iPad.
I also sent it out in an email to friends and business associates with the subject line, “J. Neil Schulman, prophet again!”
Yes, the subject line was patting myself on the back.
Yes, it was blatant self-promotion.
Yes, it was a bit over the top.
Yes, it was designed to grab attention.
I did it because if I don’t promote my brand myself, nobody else will.
I did it because if I don’t take credit, there’s no Santa Claus to give it to me wrapped up for Christmas.
And if my brand can’t become popular, there’s no chance for me to pay my bills with the literary and other media products I stick my brand on … and my voice is silenced to speak out for any cause or issue that’s on my mind.
I can’t afford to be a prophet if I can’t make a profit.
Yet, I got the following email in response, today, from David Nolan. He’s known as the founder of the Libertarian Party in 1972, and there’s a graphic called the Nolan Chart which is supposed to define who’s a libertarian and who isn’t.
Here’s David Nolan’s response to my email:
Well, gosh, Neil. When I was about 15 years old, half a century ago, I wrote a short story in which I predicted that credit cards would replace paper money. Maybe I should send out a message saying “Nolan prophetic once again!” Or maybe I’d just look like an ass if I did.
Wow. Harsh. Buzz-kill.
Another old friend of mine, Emmy-winning film producer Mike McNulty, sent me this response:
And so why didn’t you build one a dozen years ago? Ahh, that’s where the magic comes in, huh Neil.
Yeah. But that “magic” requires capital, and I didn’t have that.
So, one more “friend” trying to take me down a peg.
I did get one email that read, “You should write to Steve Jobs about your visionary tech ideas, and verifying your early involvement. Someone like you is just weird enough that it is conceivable that Apple might have interest in you as a consultant. I’m serious.”
Now that was a picker-upper. That one made my day.
Paraphrasing Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part II: This is the business I’ve chosen.
I learned a long time ago that jabs come with the territory.
But I can do without “friends” who tear me down just because I got one right.
My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!