Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Marketing Fiction in a Changing World

The mantra that has leaped out at me from every corner of my little world is, "The Business Model must change." It comes in variations: The Business Model has failed. The Business Model is obsolete. The Business Model is outdated.

The way to make a profit marketing anything is to have the right business model.

I wish they'd taught me about marketing in grammar school instead of harping on penmanship and drawing maps -- even the hours spent mastering spelling turned out to be a waste since now spellcheck does it for you as you type. And arithmetic? Even my phone has a calculator!

A fiction writer is the sole proprietor of a BUSINESS and thus needs a business model, and that business model must be correct or the writer won't turn a profit.

What does a writer do with profits? Buy bread, milk, cheese, DVDs, books, and pay the utility bills, rent and lowest on the list is usually clothes.

So a writer needs to know not only how to craft a terrific idea into a story, but must craft that story to a business model. If the end product does not fit the correct business model, the end product (the novel) can't be well marketed, and there will be no profit.

The artist side of our creativity listens to the bean counters and screams SELLOUT! But it's not really. It's opportunism.

What good is great art that molders away in the artist's basement? To do its job, art must connect with an art consumer.

The artist or writer in this case (writing is a performing art, as I learned from Alma Hill) has three choices.

1)Write anything you want and let it molder away unread by anyone but yourself.

2) Write what you want and build a mechanism for delivering what you want to the people who want it. That is build a delivery chute for your art.

3) Or be an oppotuntist and write what you want, what fires your creative furies, but first shape it so you can PACKAGE IT to fit down existing delivery chutes.

If you try to build your own delivery chutes and conveyor belts, (which is what startup ebook publishers are doing using new tools) you incur an additional overhead and take time and energy away from writing.

If you use existing delivery chutes, you may squash your art with the shrinkwrap, but most of your art will reach consumers hungry for that product.

What's happening today that has publishing melting down (and reforming), that has the very definitions of genre changing faster than publishers can invent logos, that has profits dwindling and copyright becoming an archaic term nobody understands -- what's happening today is THE BUSINESS MODELS OF THE WORLD ARE MELTING DOWN.

That's right. It's not just publishing that has foundations crumbling, it's every kind of business there is from autos to construction, and even Old Time Religion revivals.

Politically, we're all blaming it on the financial industry and its business model that collapsed in 2008 (the whole idea of distributing risk via derivative securities; mortgages that were securitized and sold abroad -- that's a business model of how to make money off of selling to people who can't afford to buy what you're selling).

But we, as writers, have to look at a much bigger picture here. The reason the financial industry was able to grow the securitization business model so explosively lies way outside the financial industry. Their brilliant idea for a business model was possible because of the computerization of the whole world. They did it all by computer! (and didn't spend the extra money necessary to figure out how to de-construct those securities when parts of the mortgages failed or needed refinancing.)

The people in the finance industry who know they operate on a business model, and are artistically creative enough to create new business models created one -- and it didn't work well at its first big test.

But it was a brilliant piece of creative work, inventing a CHUTE to deliver their PRODUCT to a hungry MARKET. They built a new mechanism to deliver product, and they built it out of the newest high-tech computerized materials.

Take GM and Chrysler as an example of the opposite phenomenon. They didn't change their bussiness model to a computerized high tech model fast enough -- by the time they put any real effort into tech, they were so far behind the times that at the first titanic blow from outside their industry, they collapsed.

Publishing is in the same situation. The biggest publishers still insist on doing business on paper, and even demand printed manuscripts. Hollywood script submissions are also still somewhat skewed toward paper copies!

The EPIC list ( http://www.epicauthors.com/links.html ) is always abuzz with the issues of e-book reading devices and e-publishing, new publishing companies, specific genre requirements, and advice to authors on how to promote your latest book from a small, independent e-publisher.

As a reviewer, I can say that some (maybe a lot) of these e-books are easily as well crafted as anything Manhattan is publishing in Mass Market. But they're usually aimed at a much narrower, smaller market.

But this is changing too, and changing fast. Soon, the e-book will be the mass market "chute" to put your product down, and paper books will be for narrow, specialty markets.

Today, however, the Mass Market paperback sells more copies of any given title than e-books do.

If you want your art to reach a broad market, you have to understand what it means "Mass Market" -- and how that relates to "High Concept" in screenwriting.

Notice the word MARKET in the title of the pocket sized paperback printed on cheap paper that yellows and crumbles in a couple decades or less. (some do have quality paper; you can tell because they cost more and feel heavy in your hand. Those pages will out-last the glue.)

What does it mean, "mass" market? It means HUGE. The Mass Market paperback is designed to be delivered down a CHUTE that has a wide bore and is very long, with many branches.

When you think Market, think of a huge factory making many copies of a thing, trucks and boxcars waiting outside, loading up and chugging off to deliver some of those things to various destinations where they'll be sold.

Think of Henry Ford inventing the assembly line to create cars the mass-market people could afford. He wasn't the first to hit on this concept, but he was the first to apply it to a product people wanted and make it work, the Model T Ford.

The entire innovation of the industrial revolution is based on UNIFORMITY. It's based on ARBITRARY CONVENTIONS. It's based on STANDARDIZATION.

Prior to the industrial revolution, everything was made by hand -- embroidered seat cushions, shoes made by a cobbler to match your own feet, patchwork quilts, rugs on a loom. No two looms or weavers were alike, no two die lots matched even almost, and no two copies of the same item were ever the same!

The business model of the master mason who built buildings, the farrier who shoed horses, the blacksmith who made plough blades and rifles, was based on the individual, specialized, made-to-fit, customized, and truly excellent item. The mastercraftsman sold his items on his reputation for excellence, not uniformity.

There was no such thing as "quality control" and "planned obsolescence" (where the factory puts out a certain percentage of lemons set just below the complaint-tolerance level of the consumer, and designs the object to fail after a certain amount of usage so the customer will buy another one).

The business model was UNIQUENESS + EXCELLENCE.


Alvin Toffler wrote a (HC + Mass Market Paperback) non-fiction book in the 1970's called FUTURE SHOCK which also had some sequels that rode on the success of the first one but added little to his message. His message was that the business model was about to shift again, a paradigm shift prompted by the computer age, that would change things nobody at that time was even thinking ever could change.

He was right! He predicted what he called a return to the cottage industry of the customized item -- as opposed to the factory produced uniform item. He predicted that commuting to work in a centralized office would be replaced by telecommuting. He didn't predict the internet, but because of the internet, his predictions have come true.

The E-book publisher is essentially a cottage industry. They employ editors, writers, POD printers, website builders, and billing system such as Paypal, scattered all over the world. And they deliver a customized product, a Niche Product, rather than the Mass Market product.

The film industry has seen the rise of the Indie company producing niche films with craftsmanship worthy of awards. And you all know YouTube! Everyone with a cell phone can make a video to post on YouTube -- though they all don't grab as big an audience.

Toffler's theory was that technology would free us from having to conform ourselves to the median, to accept what the average person wants because the mass market product is cheaper. He predicted that the customized product would be cheaper than the mass market product.

So far, that prediction hasn't happened.

The e-book is not reaching the huge, MASS of the mass market yet.

The BUSSINESS MODEL of "mass" is being chisled away, but it hasn't collapsed yet.

Still, look at the Neilsen numbers on cable news shows --

Keep in mind that there are about 310 MILLION people in the USA and the typical TV show only draws 23 million or so. Maybe 30-40 million for a big news event.

30 Million out of 300 million is not a MASS MARKET.

We seem to be a fragmented and fragmenting nation, but maybe not. See the article on Facebook and Twitter I've sited near the end of this blog entry.

Toffler's vision is coming true -- technology (900 TV channels, thousands more online sources of entertainment, thousands more e-books per day published than paper books) has shattered the Mass part of the Mass Market. Mass Market paperbacks don't sell nearly what they once did to a much smaller nation (60 Million -- and a product had to reach a third of those to be successful.)

We have more choices and less knowledge of how to make wise choices.

Another of Toffler's predictions is coming to pass. His book was called FUTURE SHOCK because it predicted that the rate of change in the fundamental rules of living, working productively, and making wise choices among products would change faster than the basic human brain can adjust.

Toffler predicted that humans would go into a state of "shock" (being unable to think) because of the pace of change. He based this on the ability to adapt with age. In Medieval times, the methods and wisdom you learned from your father would last you all your life, and still be true when you died of old age.

A cobbler, for example, who knew the best method of dying shoe leather would end his career using that same method and it would still be state-of-the-art, though his grandson might encounter an improvement, but it would only be a slight improvement and it wouldn't shatter the cobbler business model.

Human beings need that kind of stability over their lifetimes. But technology has lengthened lifetimes and it looks like it will lengthen career-lifetimes. Meanwhile, whole industries have come and gone, and our methods of doing everything have been shifted on their foundations by (as Toffler predicted) the computerization of the world.

(and computerization has hardly BEGUN to penetrate all the way through this world)

Those who lived through the industrial revolution "came in off the farm" -- you can't keep 'em down on the farm was the song and slogan. Young people abandoned life on the land for the cities, and went to work in factories where they could make a fortune doing the same thing all day over and over.

And those factories turned out masses of identical objects.

That business model now co-exists (think Neanderthal and Homo sapiens) with the computer driven E-business model.

The E-business model is dissolving the foundation of the Mass Production business model faster than humans can adapt, so some older people still cling to the older model (and that's what collapsed GM) while some younger people grab for any crazy thing that's possible to do with the new tools (which caused the collapse of the financial system).

OK, now what's this image of the world got to teach writers about marketing?

One of the foundation cornerstones of the Mass Market Paperback business model is that authors are never EVER allowed to do their own marketing. In the 1970's, that began to fall away, and today, it's shifted entirely to the other end -- most authors, especially in e-books -- are required to do their own marketing (finance or make YouTube videos, online banner ads, virtual blog tours, and anything they can think of).

Meanwhile, authors aren't paid more to cover the expense of self-marketing.

The mass market business model is tilting dangerously askew because of this. The Mass Market model only works with a market that's massive in size. And with those markets, the publicists hired by the publisher (usually working in-house) do manage to reach reviewers and get buzz started about a book.

Note what Colby Hodge said in her blog entry here

Colby has swerved into a LARGER mass market because it's open to her, Historicals. Mysteries are still big. Westerns are gone. Romance is big, but (Toffler again) Romance is fragmenting. Mysteries are fragmenting too. Customization is slowly replacing Standardization which replaced customization even more slowly!

Since the cost per item is lowered by mass production, more people can afford to buy the item, and thus the item reaches more people in total. 10% hard-core fans made is 10,000 from a book that sells 100,000 copies, and 40,000 from a book that sells 400,000 copies.

How can an artist do this and keep their integrity?

By understanding the concept MARKETING from the inside and then applying that understanding to art.

The writer is essentially a creative person. The solution to every problem in life is to create something new that has never existed before and can't be copied because it is unique.

That is what storytelling is all about -- being unique. Being the only one telling this story. Being the single source for this customized product.

Your story, your characters, your plot, your theme are fresh, new, different, and therefore exciting. You know your story will ignite ravenous hunger for more in your fans, if only they knew you exist and could find your novel.

Writers entering the marketplace today have a unique problem.

"The Marketplace" is standing on a crumbling foundation, tilting worse that the Leaning Tower of Pizza.

New writers today have a career decision to make that no writer has ever had to make before.

You can write for the market that will, I'm sure, replace this one as the high-profit-margin business model, the e-book that is tailored and customized.

You can write for the old, traditional Mass Market that's still reaching a much wider (but diminishing) audience than the e-book and work at a fair but diminishing profit.

In other words, you can try to use the delivery chutes that e-book publishers are beginning to learn to build, or you can try to use the delivery chutes that Mass Market publishers are using.

In either case, before you "have an idea" for a story, you need to study the size and shape of the chute that will deliver it to your market, and you need to study that market, and train your subconscious to "have" ideas that fit the delivery chute you have chosen.

Business people create chutes. Writers fill them.

Some writers have both skill sets, and I've found lately that the currently most successful writers come out of the business community, with a background in commercial art, advertising art, advertising writing, and every aspect of managing a business.

But to be able to do your own, personalized, individualized creative art with its unique aspects intact, your integrity unblemished, and still reach a Mass Market customer base, you must create an idea that is already formulated to fit a commercial market.

Over the last 5 years, I've seen e-book publishers reinventing that uniformity of product. Profit lies in creating large numbers of identical things, so the unit price comes down.

That principle has been eroded but not replaced.

So writers need to learn how to apply wild, unbridled creativity to one part of the product they produce, and uniformity, conformity, and standardization to the other part.

The part of the story that has to "fit down the chute" -- has to be uniform. It has to be exactly like every other story that the chute was designed to deliver to a particular audience.

Imagine, if you swung through the Mall shopping 'till you dropped, and hit up the vending machine for a coke. You feed your bill into the slot and poke the button. Down comes the red can. Pop! Take a swig. IT'S 7-UP!!! Some people would spew it out on passers-by in shock, and scream for their money back. You might be more restrained, but still irked.

Our whole society and all our expectations are configured by standardization, uniformity, conformity.

We buy a coke; we want coke in the can.

It's the same way with novels. Buy a Romance, you want an HEA ending. Buy an Alien Romance, or a Paranormal, you want plenty of complications but satisfaction in the end, anyway.

Buy a Horror Novel, you want to be creeped out big time, right?

Romance, and Horror are two "chutes" that conduct a product from your mind to your reader's mind.

These chutes have been built by businesses with business models, and they depend on the standardization aspect of the product to make it fit down the chute and arrive at the correct audience. The genre formulas are the packaging, the standard aspect of the art. Plots, characterization, story, theme all are standardized so that marketers know what to market your art "as."

If they guess wrong, and package and market 7-Up as Coke, the market will evaporate.

Meanwhile, another part of the fiction market has been thriving on the return to customization. Board games such as Dungeons & Dragons which became all the rage in create-it-yourself fiction rely on a standardization of story and elements, put together in a creative way by a "dungeon master" who marshalls the playing group. The fun is in the group activity, and the push-pull among the players for command of the customization of their stories.

Board games still exist and are enjoyed, but the BUSINESS MODEL now still growing despite the recession is VIDEO-GAMES. The battle of the game-console technology is heating up, and online gaming is huge and growing (World of Warcraft; Second Life etc etc.)

The video and online gaming is an example of the new business model Toffler predicted, which discards standardization. But even in these games, uniform "rules" and standard ways of deploying resources (rolling dice for "powers" for your character) are what make the game go.

If you market a game that doesn't generate its rules via the standard formula, players won't flock to it. They don't want to learn everything from scratch in order to create their own fiction with your game no more than readers want to learn to read all over again just to read your book.
Today more young people play video games than read books.

What's going on there?

Maybe it's not what everyone thinks it is. Maybe it's not that young people don't want to READ. Or can't read.

Maybe it's what Toffler predicted. Customization replacing Standardization. Younger people growing up in the electronic age are embracing the new world their elders can't stretch to accomodate. They are willing to work to customize their tools (phones) and entertainment. They don't want to let someone else do it for them and make it like everyone else wants it to be. They want to make it their own way -- just like us creative artists want to write our own stories our own ways, not to fit the delivery chutes the marketers have built to suit their business model.

The basic human being can accept only so many paradigm shifts in one lifetime, and there have been several huge, basic "throw every skill you have out the window and start from scratch" paradigm shifts in the last 30 years. Everyone today who is over 50 is suffering some kind of FUTURE SHOCK.

Several times in a lifetime is just way too fast for humans.

Those who reject customization (some people have trouble programming their ring tones!) say things like "I prefer the feel of real books" despite the fact that a good e-book reader can customize the font to be more readable to old eyes. But of course, the "quality" (i.e. standardization) of the fiction available in the format can be an issue, too. Amazon's Kindle program is trying to break down that barrier by presenting the same Mass Market fiction as Kindle downloads.

The biggest innovation with Kindle that may reshape our landscape is that they deliver newspapers and magazines via Kindle download that is supposed to be hassle free for the computer-averse. That may save the business model of newspapers and magazines.

One day, the kids born in the 1990's will cling to their video consoles, e-book readers or handheld device despite the availability of something new that their children feel is "better."

How do you market fiction into this changing world?

Do you customize or standardize? Where, in the structure of fiction, does the creative writer get to create?

If you decide you'll have to build your own delivery chute between yourself and your consumer, here is a story about a person Jean Lorrah ran into at MediaWest Convention.

---------FROM JEAN LORRAH via email -------------------------

One of the reasons we do conventions: I just did a podcast with Mark Eller, who became a podcaster to publicize his own books. Here is the information for finding the interview online, though he doesn't know exactly when he will post it:

Bookmark http://www.podfeed.net/podcast/Chronicles+with+Mark+Eller/17298 . Then watch for an episode featuring me. In five minutes I managed to plug simegen.com, lochness-monster.com , tipsonwriting, jeanlorrah.com , the Sime~Gen books, the Nessie books, and the Savage Empire books.

Mark, at age 50, has suddenly fallen into a bunch of connections that have brought about the sale of seven of his books to small presses and his being chosen as a judge for a "reality" TV show on the CW network called The Write Stuff. http://www.thewritestufftv.com/ . The CW is a small network, but it is on most cable systems.

The premise of the show is that writers today have to do a heck of a lot more than writing for their books to succeed, and on the show they will have to demonstrate their abilities to do everything. What they win is a small press single-book contract and a marketing campaign, but who knows? If they get the 30 million viewers that they hope for, and one-thirtieth of them buy the book, it will be a huge best-seller.

It is VERY clear that the winner will not be the best writer, but the cleverest marketer among the contestants. But unfortunately that's what book publishing is today.

---------------END FROM JEAN LORRAH via email -----------------

Now that's an example of a man who is building a new fiction-delivery-chute.

And it's going in the right direction -- MEDIA. Via the podcast which is internet radio, usually voice only but sometimes with video now, niche audiences are being configured for each of thousands of special interests.

The total population of the world is growing fast, and the cost-per-unit of customized product is dropping fast. Where the two trends meet, niche marketing will explode.

Thus we have the call-in talk show done with online radio! And online radio advertising customized for novelists to promote their own work.

---------------FROM A PROMOTIONAL EMAIL ---------------

PIVTR has another new program in its line-up. It's called "Crazy Tuesday" (c) 07.

What's that? What is "Crazy Tuesday?" I'm delighted you asked.

"Crazy Tuesday" (c) 07 takes place on the first Tuesday of each month. Between the hours of 10 to 2 p.m. eastern standard time for $100, an author, playwright, screenwriter, actor/actress, free-lance, independent, publishing company, publicist, agent, the world can promote, market, brand, sell, advertise (whatever is clean and wholesome. PIVTR is a family station!) to get the word out about you and your product.

Contact Lillian for all of the details.

Don't delay. The first Tuesday of July and September are already booked!!

LCauldwell @ internetvoicesradio.com

Let the WORLD know about you!

Check out the website and look around: http://internetvoicesradio.com

----------------END PROMOTIONAL EMAIL---------------------

Web radio is another whole new business-model-busting tech application fragmenting the mass market and the underlying concept of standardization. It's a result of a huge paradigm shift, and many people are just shrugging off web radio as unimportant. It is, however, a harbinger of what is yet to come. (we've barely started on computerizing the world)

The production cost is way down because there's no broadcast antenna, huge airwave license fee, and electric bill. Some simple equipment that's easily available, some software specializing in recordings that can be webcast, a short but steep learning curve, and the talented and determined are in business, building a niche audience for a customized product.

The audiences on web radio are large and growing. Like e-books, the audience size doesn't rival Mass Market media like Cable and Broadcast TV, but like e-books this entertainment delivery system is chiselling away at the foundations of the mass market business model.

That foundation is Standardization. Standardization was developed to reduce unit costs to where the vast majority of people could afford the product if they wanted it.

Cost reduction via technology is making standardization obsolete in certain aspects of product design -- the aspects that the consumer can customize themselves.

Microsoft rose to dominance on standardizing the platform (Windows) and letting developers create applications all of which run on the same command sets and design look.

Their success changed the business model of the computing world that Toffler was familiar with. And yet his predictions are coming true, one by one.

The lesson writers can take away from all this is that success in this churning market depends on standardizing the invisible and the user interface -- letting the consumer customize everything else.

See my post on Web 2.0. The Web concept failed, and it's being patched with customizing tools like RSS feeds, news and social networking aggregators, twitter aggregators, etc.

For a writer, that means standardize your plot structure then use your creative art to induce the reader to IMAGINE THEIR OWN STORY using your story as a springboard into their own story.

Your product is no longer your own story. In this changing world, your product is fuel for your readers' imagination in ways it never could be before.

And it's all about marketing, not writing talent. The best marketer will win.

Check out this recent news story on Yahoo Tech news

And analysts and investors, in search of the next Google-like hit, are paying close attention to the breakneck speed at which Facebook and Twitter are adding new users.

While the popularity of the two social media firms has yet to translate into the kind of revenue-generating machine that Google Inc developed with its search advertising business, some say Facebook and Twitter have become so central to the Internet experience that they are inherently valuable.
Facebook grew to 200 million active users in April, less than a year after hitting 100 million users.


Note that 200 million. Check the sizes of the average TV shows in viewers. Small wonder advertisers are abandoning TV -- which can be seen as each hour carries more and more minutes of ads instead of show. They're desperately trying to get enough advertising bucks to keep the shows on the air.

Read that exerpt. Listen to how they think and how they talk. "monetize" "adding new users" "inherently valuable" -- and "internet experience" !!! --

Amusement and Entertainment (which is what novels are) has become an "experience."
Interactive, and most of all customized, experience.

The whole social networking phenomenon is an example of customized entertainment. And it's being made into a mass market product. But the current business model can't figure how to monetize it, and that figuring is indeed being done by people so young they probably never read Alvin Toffler's brilliant bit of futurology, Future Shock.

Toffler was right about so much, chances are the answers are in there.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. PS: today's news

    Facebook (a web 2.0 example used in my post here) just sold a 200 million dollar stake to a Russian internet company.

    Portfolio May 26, 2009, 12:59 p.m. EST

    Facebook raises $200 million from Russian Internet firm
    Social-networking giant says deal implies $10 billion valuation; no board seat


  2. Interesting post Jacqueline.
    "Today more young people play video games than read books.
    Younger people .....want to make it their own way -- just like us creative artists want to write our own stories our own ways, not to fit the delivery chutes the marketers have built to suit their business model."
    The online game which features in my WIP has 6 million players world wide.
    The chute I would like to create is to have a newsletter/site attached to the game which players can access for free but which has adverts which pay whenever newsletter is accessed.
    I would like to be able to separate my WIP into serialised form (think Dickens) posted on there regularly.
    The other part which kids (12-72) love is to be able to create their own versions. Hence my WIP has 150 potential characters from different backgrounds and nationalities (most non-specified at this stage apart from the 10 or so used so far in my story). Subscribers could select characters and write their own contributions that other subscribers could vote for to see which is best and stays as "official".
    Now to work out how to do it and make it profitable for all concerned..... lol

  3. Anonymous5:10 AM EDT

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Can't wait to link to this.

  5. A little disambiguation if I may.

    I'm Rowena Cherry, and "Crazy Tuesday" is my show (at least for the time being).

    I've never asked anyone to pay to be on Crazy Tuesday with me, and if there is profit from the downloads of the show, I've asked that my share of the profits are donated to Capuchin Soup Kitchens of Detroit.


  6. Hello, this is The Creator of PIVTR. I'm going to digress for a moment to clear up a few misconceptions about Passionate Internet Voices Talk Radio, Inc.
    As many of may or may not know, PIVTR is the home for Crazy Tuesday. Crazy Tuesday came about when a number of Internet talk radio stations decided not to air because of the music royalty and licensing issue. On that day, PIVTR ran all day FREE programs to anyone who wanted to promote and market their book, company or self.
    That philosophy hasn't changed since then. Authors and guests are interviewed for FREE. The only cost to them is paying for their own long distance phone call. Only PIVTR doesn't call it paying, rather it's an INVESTMENT on the part of the author or media guest.
    PIVTR does charge a monthly fee to its talk show hosts to run and maintain the station. HOWEVER, PIVTR's vision is to generate enough revenue so that PIVTR pays a salary to their talk show hosts and can offer them benefits.
    Interested parties should contact LCauldwell@internetvoicesradio to find out what the POWER of PIVTR can do for them.
    Or to put it in another light, CBS and a major New York City radio station has invited three of PIVTR's talk show hosts to participate on their FM radio stations.
    Thanks for a terrific blog. The information is always fresh and inspirational.

  7. Anonymous2:22 PM EDT

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.