Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Targeting a Readership - PART ONE

Readers often watch TV or go to the movies. Today, movie-goers and TV/DVD watchers are less inclined to read books, unless they're spinnoffs.

Now, many TV shows have fan games and actor-blogs on their websites along with recent episodes to watch on your computer or handheld.

On the other hand, Amazon's Kindle seems to be attracting readers who shunned other e-book readers, even though the Kindle version can't do animation, full color, 3-D (which is growing big time now), and sound.

Still, a single title in text does not reach nearly as many as a TV show, and if you want to change the general attitude toward a genre such as Romance, you need to reach a very wide audience.

There is a new movie being advertised as a Romance, LOVE HAPPENS, which on imdb.com has (at this writing) garnered only 5.5 stars out of 10 -- half the audience doesn't like it. And the people who do, think it's mediocre, possibly because the trailers I've seen on TV sizzle with ROMANCE, but I'll bet the movie itself doesn't. But it is getting some big buck advertising.


That's a theater release, and it will eventually be on DVD and TV, reaching even more people. But will it change their minds about Romance? Chances are good, the film is actually a "love story" more than it is a Romance.

Maybe Theater to broadcast TV is not the venue for a writer to aim at to get the largest possible audience?


Is a report on the Emmy's broadcast drawing about 12.3 million viewers, and the presenters joking about the paltry numbers.

The population of the USA has gone up and up -- new census this year may turn up 330 million in the USA. I think it was about 9 or 8 years ago that the population hit 300 million, right after the last census.

For a broadcast TV show to draw a comparable audience to what TV shows of the 1960's drew, they would have to pull in about 100 million people to sit and watch the box for an hour.

Yeah, people used to sit through the commercials and not move for one whole hour. They wouldn't answer the phone, and that was before recorders and voice mail.

Can you imagine anyone doing that today? Not even answering their cell phone because the TV was on?

Today DVR's let you answer the phone, then roll back the show and catch what you missed even if you're not recording it, and fast-forward through commercials (though Congress wants to prevent the FF through commercials part).

People used to pay attention.

Imagine 100 million Americans (nevermind the rest of the world which might also see a show by satellite) all paying close attention to the same thing for one hour once a week. 100 million is about half all adults in the USA. It's not a lot of people, actually.

Then the next day they'd discuss it at work, in elevators, on twitter.

What if you hadn't seen it? Imagine the discussions you would be shut out of. Do you think you'd watch it next week?

Who cares what 12 million people are watching? That's 4% of the USA not 33% or 50% of adults.

The gist of the article on the Emmy's broadcast is that broadcast TV is losing to cable and the internet. The audience has become dispersed, so that today we have NOTHING to discuss in elevators.

Twitter and other social networks though are gathering the paltry few million with something in common to talk about, almost like fandom once was.  Today it's not called "fandom."  It's called a "niche." 

Jay Leno was pulling a whopping 7.7 million viewers in the 18-49 age group last week.

The Guiding Light has been canceled. That soap was on longer than I've been alive!

The 2009-10 season is expected to decline another 10%. (this is from Nielsen Ratings online at
It's a handy site for finding the numbers)

What are people doing? And why are they doing it? How can we capture their attention and hold it for an hour a week? If we could do that, would we have the ability to change an attitude?

OK, with DVR, DVD, and Web distribution too, it may not be the SAME hour that everyone pays attention to one thing.

Mystically, that simultaneity counts big time in creating change in what people think, or what they spend time thinking about.

Right now, however, we've lost simultaneity (which started to go away when they deployed kinescope to record shows broadcast in New York then rebroadcast them 3 hours later in California).
http://www.kinescope.tv/kinehistory.html gives a quick history and this picture of a kinescope recorder -- something I've never seen in person even though it revolutionized my life because I grew up in California!  Go to the website for a larger image where you can see the mechanism.  Wow.    

So we as writers have to go for subject matter.

The idea is to rivet your audience in place, hold them spellbound and deliver entertainment that fertilizes the subconscious, and makes people talk to each other (relationships is our business, remember) and think about what they've seen.

Have you watched any eps of DARK BLUE? It's about undercover cops, with lots of shooting and and ugly emotions, but it has a very high percentage of people-story woven into it. The undercover cops are emerging as real people with real angst and family ambitions -- and some of the perps they're trying to nail are deep enough as people to have recognizable life ambitions even if they are criminals and worse. It's an action series with complex heart.

Remember, we learned from Blake Snyder, May He Rest In Peace, that you put the real story you want to tell, your real theme, your heart, into the B story while the A story is the High Concept. DARK BLUE is a good example.

But any Romance in Dark Blue will turn up in the B story. We, however, are trying to figure out how to get the Romance into the A story, hitting a wide enough audience to convince the commercial interests that Romance is a respectable vehicle.

The only place (so far) that the writer can make that choice herself is text narrative. Webisodes, web-strips of still graphic novels, animations like machinima, are usually beyond the content creator such as a writer. And they cost too much, so far.

Google's project of putting POD machines into bookstores so you can print on demand some ancient public domain book you really want was discussed in Wired Magazine recently


And the article has a NICE picture of a POD machine that costs about $100,000 (half the price of a house) and makes a 300 page book for about $3 in about 4 minutes, (the bookstore and google get paid on top of that expense so it costs you about $10.)

The article said:
Dane Neller, On Demand Books CEO, says the announcement flips book distribution on its head.

“We believe this is a revolution,” Neller said. “Content retrieval is now centralized and production is decentralized.”

And Dane Neller is correct that this absolutely inverts the fiction business model, just as Kinescope decentralized broadcast.  Change like this shifts whole civilizations, slowly but inexorably. 

Publishers, warehousers, distributors, all had to centralize to produce physical objects economically (huge printing presses doing print-run after print-run of books), organize them and put them before the eyes of potential (only potential) customers. Hit or miss, you never know if you'll sell what you make.

Writers all learn early the term "sell-through" and what that means for a career.

Now publishers only have to organize the information in a central place, and potential customers will browse through and find what they want, instead of going to see what's on the shelves and available.

Then the customer, no matter where she is, only has to wave her credit card and CLUNK a book falls out of the slot at her feet, or downloads onto her e-reader.

Just imagine all those old-old Romance novels that every author and publisher thought were read-and-toss, never to be reprinted trash will now be available in every bookstore. How will they find the writers to pay us? Will they even bother to try? The Google project issue is still in litigation and settlement status. Who knows what they'll do next.

"Home Entertainment" is undergoing the same kind of decentralizing revolution with "On Demand" programming that Google is bringing to publishing.

That revolution is basically the adoption of the internet model -- index it and let people pick what they want when they want.

As a society, we no longer march in lockstep, captive to the schedule devised by commercial interests. (that lockstep started with Radio and early moving-pictures)

Broadcast TV, Cable, Satellite, Internet, reality shows, "news" and "news commentary" shows, documentaries, travel, the food channel, scripted stuff like HEROS or HOUSE, M.D., drama or comedy, dramedy, and talk shows that let the audience have a podium, or talk shows with celebrities posturing, has fragmented "the audience."

Not even a third of the country watched the Presidential campaign, and that was home entertainment too. I think I remember the ratings indicated maybe 60 million or so at the peak, out of more than 200 million adults.

Home entertainment delivery is a huge industry becoming more diverse by the day. It includes video games you buy on disc, and access via the Web, play alone or against living opponents in real-time. Home entertainment includes anything people do for fun at home (with or without viagra).

Fiction, our kind of Alien Romance and oddball futuristic romance, or paranormal romance, is only a tiny fraction of a percent of that Home Entertainment industry.

But consider. "Novels" (not books; they may be gone for good already) may Novels, however, may not be HOME ENTERTAINMENT at all, because they're portable.

We already have a category of novel called a "Beach Read" -- and you all know what that is. It's not home entertainment. It's a mood for getting away from home. (of course, nobody will sue you for reading it in your backyard.)

A whole publisher's imprint called 'POCKET BOOKS' was founded in 1939 (and has passed through several owner's hands), with the concept of a book that would fit in your pocket. Bantam likewise aimed to make SMALL books to carry around with you.

Here's some history of publishing gathered neatly on the web.

Can anyone figure out why a site called absoluteastronomy.com would host a topic on publishing? I only found that through google.

To succeed at this strategy both Pocket and Bantam aimed for the MASS MARKET -- to publish nothing but best sellers. They wanted every book they published to be something everyone would want to read. The mid-list came later, but genres started as mass market (the Dime Novel western).

Nearly a hundred years ago there were still so few books being published that almost everyone could read almost every book, so people had something in common to discuss. In 1935 not everyone even had RADIO -- nevermind TV which was more a laboratory toy than a practical device.

The e-book was on the way to fitting in your pocket when suddenly Amazon and Sony and others made readers that not only don't fit in your pocket (or even in my purse), but they don't bend so you can force them in.

People carry DVD players around, too, to watch movies on the commuter train for example, and that's not even touching on ipods.

I think the entire field labeled by marketers as HOME ENTERTAINMENT needs to be re-labeld PERSONAL ENTERTAINMENT.

When you start thinking about it as PERSONAL entertainment, you can begin to solve the problem of where everyone went.

And the answer is simple. Everywhere. Everywhere but home.

Why don't these broadcast TV shows, cable shows, shows on the web etc, pull in at least a third of the adults (or a third of the kids, for that matter). Why are audiences so small?

Why do ebooks sell a few HUNDRED copies (unless they have huge advertising behind them) instead of at least 10's of thousands?

And given this fragmentation trend, how do you as a writer find an audience to target?

What do we all have in common?

If we don't have commonality, can we be a community? And if we're not a community, where does Romance fit into things?

Rowena Cherry has been talking about dominance games in galactic politics, the clashing of civilizations or at least societies on a giant scale, and how the resulting fragmentation is giving rise to individuals who are drawn to conquer in order to re-create order. We've seen that scenario playing out in the Balkans and now in what had once been Persia, was conquered by Constantine, and sub-divided with a ruler by Britain, leaving the resulting tribal feuds for you and me to sort out.

We've seen civilizations crumble in History, and on CNN. Rowena and a host of others are writing about interstellar civilizations crumbling. Is that because our own civilization is crumbling about us?

My theory is that love and romance are what hold civilizations together. How do we tell a story that will hold this civilization together?

There are some big questions to think about here, so do some thinking and eventually I'll take up this topic of audience cohesiveness and Readership identification again.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. In Medieval times, princes and princesses from warring kingdoms would marry to cement an alliance. It was like a sexual form of hostage taking.

    In alien romance fiction, a male from one world and a female from another will come together, fall passionately and permanently in love, and their romantic union will save both their worlds (or at least one of the two).

    Lovely fantasy.

    Would it work in our times? One problem is that few world leaders are single and sexy. Maybe there's one, but not an equally attractive counterpart of the opposite gender.

    Another problem... would the rest of us be thrilled enough to forget the tough sacrifices they'd both want us to make? Would we be so envious of their happiness that we'd resent them?

  2. Rowena:

    VERY good point -- CNN's continuous worldwide coverage (however slanted, they do get their cameras into the oddest places) has really changed the world.

    Today we would see enough up close and REAL to evoke jealousy, and darker emotions rather than the fuzzy, pleasurable romantic mood that a Bard could use to ensnare an audience at the tavern.

    Most world leaders are very temporary and not dynastic. And most of the world disapproves of the ones trying to establish dynasty.

    Nobody cares who Obama's girls marry, just so they do well in life despite growing up in the White House under the spotlight.

    They could marry a Russian and Chinese mogul apiece and it wouldn't change the world.

    We don't believe in dynasty anymore. The vertical integration of family has been lost. The side-wise integration is disintegrating as families are smaller and so there are fewer cousins in each generation.

    That's why the Kennedy family made such an impression - may have been the last dynasty, but even marrying into a Greek mogul's family didn't change America.

    So I'm going to explore what makes a cohesive audience in future posts and how to apply principles to the swiftly changing modern world.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  3. My Kindle 2 fits in my purse perfectly. That's one thing I love about it, and the reason (other than the expense) that I wouldn't want the deluxe model they recently came out with -- not only does the latter do things I'm not interested in paying extra to do, it would be too big.

    I would take it VERY badly if the ability to fast-forward on our DVR were disabled. During a season like this one, when *four* shows I want to see come on the same night (Friday), the only way I'll be able to keep up with all my recordings is that I can watch a one-hour show in 45 minutes.

    There are still some programs, such as LOST, that approach the "must see" buzz major TV hits used to have. On the whole, though, I see niche marketing as a Good Thing. Could this season's varied crop of numerous spec-fic series have ever made it onto the air (or cable, rather) if the powers were aiming for universal appeal to an audience comprising the entire viewing public?

    Speaking of which, what do you think of EASTWICK so far? It has possibilities, but if it devolves into a fixation on the three heroines' sex lives with minimal fantastic content, I'll abandon it. And as one of the characters said (repeatedly), Van Horn is really annoying. He'd better do some flashy demon stuff in the future, or I'll quickly get tired of watching him.

    FLASH FORWARD premieres tonight. Now, that sounds truly cool.

  4. Here's something I think everyone is missing: One, there is *very little* on TV that, in my opinion, is any good. I personally can't stand "reality" shows, *or* cop shows, and the hospital shows are paling very fast. And the exorbitant price of cable keeps that out of reach. So that leaves me with, what three tv shows a week--or my collection of DVDs. Beginning to understand why tv ratings tank is easy in that sense. Now, when I leave home, what am I likely to take for my entertainment? A book, even if I can't shove it in my pocket--like the trade paperbacks. Would I take an MP3 player? Maybe. Depends on where I'm going. Would I buy an e-reader I have to carry in a backpack?

    Hell no, and I'll tell you why: One, portability. For a Kindle to work, like an MP3 player, you have to have some source of electricity, right? So what does that mean? An endless supply of batteries. Two: Price. With the $300 that Kindle p.o.s. costs, I'd rather pay a bill, or better yet, hit a used bookstore, or failing that, another local store (be it Borders or whatever) and spend the money on a stack of real paperbacks I *can* easily cart around with me. So until Kindle becomes truly affordable (and $300 is not) and portable (ie. no electricity required), or until TV actually offers something worth a damn, I'll stick to my real live books. :)

  5. "One, portability. For a Kindle to work, like an MP3 player, you have to have some source of electricity, right? So what does that mean? An endless supply of batteries. Two: Price. With the $300 that Kindle p.o.s. costs, I'd rather pay a bill, or better yet, hit a used bookstore, or failing that, another local store (be it Borders or whatever) and spend the money on a stack of real paperbacks I *can* easily cart around with me."

    The Kindle is MORE portable than a stack of paperbacks. I would never give up my print books, but there are some books I want to read that are only available in e-book and many that are enough cheaper in e-book than in print as to make the electronic format attractive -- esp. if it's a book I'm on the fence about buying. If I can get a significant price break on the e-book, I feel more free to take a chance on a book I'm not sure about.

    As I said, the Kindle fits in my purse. One doesn't need a backpack for it. :)

    Your "no electricity required" criterion puzzles me. I think you misunderstand how the thing operates. No endless supply of batteries. The device doesn't use batteries that have to be replaced. It's rechargeable; it charges fast and lasts 2 weeks (so they say -- I recharge mine about every 2 weeks but have never come close to using up the charge, except one time when I forgot to turn off the wireless function).

    So for convenience in carrying lots and lots of books (as on a trip, for instance) an e-reader can't be beat.

    Yes, the price is too high, but it has just dropped from $359 to the $299 you mentioned, and eventually it will fall into a "mainstream" price range.