The Cult of the Amateur

Read this book if your future is anyway connected to Web2.0. Andrew Keen’s central thesis is that if all content (e.g. music, video, news, books, encyclopaedias) is produced by “amateurs” and no-one will pay for “professional” versions then its curtains for quality or independent publishing.


But Andrew Keen is no luddite but a “Silicon Valley Insider” with tech start-up experience.

This makes his argument all the more interestingl

In The Cult of the Amateur he presents the fact that for every legal music downloads there are 40 illegal downloads and asks the question :

“If a coffee shop gave away 40 cappuccinos for every one they sold how long would they stay in business?”.

He includes a fascinating interview with legendary singer/songwwiter Paul Simon who he quotes as saying:

“I’m personally against Web2.0 in the same way as I’m personally against my own death”

Keen rages eloquently about the impact of our current actions on the future of News gathering.

He suggests that if we keep going down the current road there will be no such thing as objective news any more

Instead we will have covertly sponsored messages dressed up as news or the info spins of anyone who has an opinion or an axe to grind.

After addressing the demise of the film industry and independent book stores , Keen saves a special place of damnation for wikipedia and its democratic process of gathering content with no regard whatsoever for the expertise of the author.

Keen also criticises the “cut and paste” style of blogging where bloggers (manually or via bots) gather all their content from elsewhere with scant regard for Intellectual Property and zero value add.

You might not agree with everything Keen says and you probably won’t like the inflamatory style with which he says it – but I found it very entertaining and thought-provoking.

The book is packed with good research, insightful anecdotes and is well written too (for as Keen calls himself - an “amateur” author)

Near the end of the book the sections on privacy, porn and online gambling seemed a little bit rambling and off topic to me – perhaps I was just getting tired.

Nevertheless I simply could not put down "The Cult of the Amateur" once I started it.

Keens argument is very important, read it and disagree if you like, but you should read it first.

For more see Keens Blog

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I haven't read the book, so I'm commenting on your review here, but the cappuccino analogy is a seriously flawed one - each cappuccino requires the same quantity of ingredients and labor to produce and distribute - not even remotely analogous to digital music, where the "cost to produce" is entirely in the first file. Similarly Keen's criticism of web-based news gathering - I challenge Keen or anyone else to find a single example anywhere anytime of a completely objective news organization. News has always been about filtering: selection, emphasis, point of view. Sure there's bad blogging - just as there are bad newspaper reporters and bad TV correspondents and bad editors. What makes Web 2.0 different is the relatively easy access to the raw materials - the unfiltered stuff. I've just skimmed Keen's blog, and he comes across as someone who knows his argument is a dead end, but senses there's money to be made pandering to those pining for the "good old days." But then again, I'm no expert...


Thanks for commenting.

One of the future scenarios is music as a free utility (like water or broadband) with all money being earned not through the primary product but via secondary spin-offs (concerts, advertising) - I personally struggle to see this working.

I do agree with your point that its naive to think big media is independent - they are trained and competent (hopefully) but that is a different thing altogether

BTW it is really worth reading the book - hard to do it justice in a couple of paragraphs.


Interesting that you consider concerts to be a secondard spin-off, since before the days of recorded media they were the primary product. Its is only the media distributors who want to reframe it that theirs is the primary product. For a much better insight, see:

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