Tom Clancy sold out. There have been
four major motion pictures based on
his writings, he has sold his name to
a major video game company for a series of
military games, and he is now even the coowner
of a Major League Baseball team.
Clancy originally published his first book,
The Hunt for Red October through a small
publisher known as U.S. Naval Institute
Press. The book gained popularity.
Then, Clancy’s decision to leave the niche
market and have his book reprinted by a
major publisher saw his rise to fame. Yet had
he stayed with a small audience, his career
would not have leapt to such great heights.
“Sell-out” is often a derogatory term used
to describe someone who starts putting
someone else’s requirements in front of their
own desires. Whether it’s an indie band that
tones down some content to sign with a big
publisher or an artist that starts working
in a style specified by a client in place of
their own voice, existing fans usually have a
problem with it. The band The Shins signed
with independent record label Sub Pop
and afterwards had songs exposed in film,
television series, and commercials. Their third
record broke Sub Pop’s previous sales record.
While it’s obvious that they received paydays
for each different form of media they lent
their music to, isn’t it equally as obvious the
result was more fans for the band?
People who accuse artists of any kind of
selling out are missing the big picture.
Yes, there is extra money involved almost
every time, but up to a certain point a
band or artist can accurately claim that
playing along with a publisher will get
them to a wider audience. If someone is
creating something they think is beautiful
or worthwhile, chances are they want as
many other people to experience it as they
possibly can. So if that means taking a fasttrack
to mass appeal through commercial
insertion and movie soundtracks, why is
that any less respectable than touring for
years for the same end result — more fans?
For myself, selling out is a career goal.
How many people have heard of Jerry Siegel
or Joe Shuster? I’m guessing not nearly as
many as have heard of their character:
Superman. The creators had to change format
from comic strip to comic book in order to
reach large-scale publication and since then,
Superman has become an internationally
recognized icon. If I can create a character
and have it picked up by DC Comics and
have multi-million-dollar movies made from
it, then I will be quite pleased. I would have
financial security for the rest of my career and
a creation of mine would be all over the world.
The concept isn’t limited to art or music
either. If an engineer produces some
wonderful prototype and he sells the patent
rights to Microsoft or Ford or some other
gigantic corporation, not only will he be
well compensated but he’ll have the joy of
having his creation produced on a scale he
probably couldn’t achieve without the sale.
I would wish selling out upon all my peers.
I hope my software engineering friends
sell a program to some multi-national
corporation and retire at age 26, and I hope
my animation friends make the next Shrek.
Fans of underground artists that hit big fame
can take pride in being in on the ground floor.
Anyone with a copy of the first printing of
The Hunt for Red October can sell it for a couple
hundred dollars. It’s so coveted. But if fans
want their favorites to succeed, they need to
hope for a sell-out or underground is where
their favorites will end up staying forever.
The opinions expressed in the Views section are solely those of the author.