When the writer becomes the publisher
Walt Whitman and Ben Franklin were both printers who became writers... one would imagine they did this because it was cheaper to write your own stuff than hiring someone, and having words to print and sell is good business if you’re a printer.
The joke as we know it was unknown before the Civil War (so says Bob Mankoff [Jason disagrees and points us to this article]). Sure, there were funny stories, but not jokes with punchlines. We don't know who wrote the first joke, but by 1920, there were books of thousands of jokes. What shifted? You could get paid for writing jokes. Magazines bought jokes, so jokes got written.
I did a ridiculous series of videotapes twenty years ago, videos that certainly wouldn't have been made if there hadn't been a market for them.
Today, of course, being a printer is no fun. Anyone can be a digital printer, publishing their words to the web. And so we have a mysterious flip, in which writers are becoming ‘printers’, not the other way around.
In a world in which just about everyone is a writer and just about every writer wouldn’t mind benefiting from their work, there’s a huge need for people who can help us publish profitably. Or, failing that, figuring out a way to get your own words published profitably. Some people will happily remain amateurs, but history shows us that the real explosion in content happens after people figure out how to make money.
Mark this down as another job for the new economy: someone who can collate, amplify and leverage the work of writers and turn it into cash. I don't believe that there's one solution, not this time. But I'm confident that around the edges and deep into niches, there's money being made.