Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sizing Up The Competition Part 3 Romancing The Web

As you can see, from most of my blog entries here, but especially Parts 1 & 2 of this Sizing Up The Competition series:



...I obviously spend a lot of time thinking about Love and Romance and how they relate to each other.  One place I study this relationship is on Amazon, among the reader commentaries. 

On amazon, I see a generational divide gaping wider.

Now, please remember the essence of the science fiction/fantasy fan is the retention of the Child-like Sense of Wonder far into adulthood.  That's CHILD-LIKE not childish.  It's a canary attitude.  Remember the canary from part 1 of this "Sizing up the Competition" series.

So we can't really parse this readership by age-group alone.  The science fiction/Paranormal Romance reader can be any age -- and each age contains all the other ages. 

Many SF/F fans are extremely mature even as pre-teens, and many middle aged fans love to read YA novels.  They may not get the same charge out of it that they once did, but from an older perspective they get a different, equally potent, affirmation of life. 

That demographic fact has confounded the major publishers ever since I can remember.  As far as I can tell, they're more confounded now than ever, and amazon is just making it worse for them.  Do read that "sleeping with the enemy" blog I linked in a previous part -- here it is again:.


On the other hand, there is a definite shift in the way huge numbers of people look at the world, at each other, and at the relationship among people. 

Here is a blog entry that defines the generation gap in terms of age and experience of Relationship.

This marketer, John Carlton, asked a young friend how young people size each other up these days -- what they look at among a person's possessions and connections, their choices on how to spend money, and their preferences in music, to tell whether to establish a relationship with that person.


The generational difference that the young consultant pinpointed was simply being "at home" on the web.

The internet, more even than the cell phone and texting, has caused a major shift in how people evaluate each other.

Your online footprint reveals as much, maybe more, about you as was once revealed by your book shelves and record collection. 

I noted that in sizing people up before entering a relationship, there was little emphasis on how a person dresses, their physical attractiveness or ethnicity. 

Now, the marketer was after a general impression, but here we're focused more on how people size up another person with respect to possible romantic, love-and-marriage, relationships and/or sexual potential.

"First impressions are lasting" as they say (which is very true) and apparently today's first impression is your web-presence, what sites you interact on, and who you "friend" or connect with in circles. 

The consultant pointed out that the world has changed in such a way that young people don't have what I call a "universe of discourse" in common now.  There are no particular songs or singers that "everyone who is anyone" follows.  There are no books or authors that everyone knows.  There's just nothing that "everyone" has in common to create an "everyone." 

As I've pointed out in previous posts this lack of the common experience is a stealthy but major change that few are taking seriously enough. 

I've been thinking that a lot of this fragmentation is not so much due just to the Web or Cable TV with hundreds of channels, plus games.  I've begun to suspect it's simply a result of population growth.  I recall a statistic from a study of Twitter that indicated that humans just can't solidify associations with more than about 1,000 people, and even that's a stretch.  500 or so is a real inflection point.

The world of 3-TV-networks that don't even broadcast all night, so that "everyone" watches one of the 3 eight-o'clock shows, is gone.  Long ago, studies of rush-hour highway traffic and the cost of building more lanes or more roads caused businesses to "stagger" work hours so people don't all hit the road at the same minute.  Even so, we still waste gas and health on traffic jams.  Maybe that's just population growth. 

Our entire economic system depends for its health on "growth" -- if the economy doesn't "grow" we are in dire straits.  Why is that?  Are we alligators or sharks that we never stop growing until we die?  Statistics indicate the number of new jobs that must be created because of the number of new people entering the workforce, and so the economy must grow or there won't be enough jobs for everyone.  But now we've reached an inflection point where the baby-boomers are retiring.  Will the workforce shrink rather than grow despite the number of young people looking for jobs?  Has our population (in the USA) topped out at 308,745,538 (census bureau as of 2010)? 

That's double 1950's statistic of 1950  152,271,417

Here's a portrait of 1964 which I assembled while working on my Memoirs for a publisher who wants the book sooner rather than later.

Color television makes its way into U.S. homes.
April 24, 1964, Socorro UFO sighting by a Policeman makes folks wonder anew.  Forgotten Roswell incident resurrected.
India Mourning Nehru, 74, Dead of a Heart Attack
June 1964 Civil Rights Bill Passed, 73-27
July 1964 Ranger Takes Close-Up Moon Photos gaining data on Landing Site for Man
Gal of gas costs 30 cents
USA Pop 191,888,791 (that's from a website http://www.npg.org/facts/us_historical_pops.htm )
More has changed than just the number of people crammed into the same USA borders.  We now import about 60% of our food supply (I heard that on TV last year; it might not be accurate now). 

Before World War II, we were net exporters of food and energy.  When war hit, we invented nylon and other synthetics because we couldn't import enough rubber to field our war vehicles with tires and gaskets and provide silk stockings for the women who marched out to fill in the work force as the men left to be grunts for the military.  So women wore nylons (with seams up the back and garter belts).  

We invented synthetics (mostly made from our abundant oil) because the natural sources of materials couldn't keep up with demand.  Then the baby boomer population continued to increase demand, so more synthetic materials (plastics in particular!) became marketable to fill the demand for buttons (formerly made of ivory or bone). 

It's all about competition, the Tiger and the Canary.  Tigers and Canaries are two different species, one living on the ground the other in the trees.  They could get along fine.  We humans are all one species and we all want the exact same living space, climate, easy abundant food and energy -- and materials for satin sheets and sexy clothing.  And we're competing hard for jobs and mates! 

Is the rise of infidelity (if there is a rise) due to that competition for a mate in close quarters, but in a teaming mass of people where it's hard to tell one from another?  Is Romance being killed off by sexuality?  If so, why?  If not, why?  (lots of novels in those essay questions)

Now go to imdb.com and look up the popular films from the 1960's, check out the way Romance was portrayed.  See if you can find sales statistics and box office statistics on the Romance genre.  And all the while, takes notes for your next novel. 

The internet and the web 2.0 interactivity that I've discussed many times here is the real dividing line not just in the skills people bring to the workplace, not just in how people buy books or consume film and TV, but in how people actually choose a mate.

And I don't mean computerized dating services.  As this young marketing consultant pointed out, people raised with Facebook and Twitter, with blogs and texting, and social networking aggregators, with "feeds" and google, look at each other differently. 

That difference has to be affecting what seems plausible in a romantic encounter. 

I wrote about the now classic film You've Got Mail here:


And there's more to come.  In fact, it's happening as you read this.  There is an explosion of creativity being unleashed by the web, connecting people, engaging people in cooperative endeavors during which they "hook up" one way or another.

The co-founders of twitter want to back a new web-based venture that they envision, according to an interview with them I saw on television during Worldcon 2011, will connect people in new ways that twitter could not.

Here's where to sign up to be notified when they launch this thing -- which they aren't discussing yet in detail.


Note that it's not a "dot-com" URL.

The biggest surge of life-altering, perception-altering change that I'm seeing now is in the online video community.

YouTube was the ground-breaker, like twitter, and it's still going big time.  The most popular videos now approach professional quality production.

On twitter, and LinkedIn, and other social networks I've found a large number of folks "crowd-sourcing" the financing for low budget films.  Yes, I know you know about all that, but the significance of this development is much bigger than anyone has guessed.

The significance for the romance and science fiction market is huge.  This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and the young people who have grown up with this new method of assessing new associates from afar are the ones poised to exploit this opportunity.

There's a new application to all this as well.  For five or even ten years there has been a growing presence on the web of video presentations.  Now, though, we are seeing the launch of professional scale ventures using the web as a platform.

The 2008 and 2010 election cycles saw web-sourcing of funding and Facebook page "like" counts for candidates burgeoning.  I expect the 2012 cycle will find the web even more significant.  Already, the primary candidates are dueling on YouTube.

Every product imaginable (including novels) are now pitched with short YouTube video advertisements.  They're on every commercial page you visit - just roll your mouse over and a little video pops up. 

But here's the big development of major significance to Romance writers, especially those just starting out and enthusiastically mixing other genres into Romance. 


Not just little videos or advertisements, not just a movie or TV type Star Trek episode.  I'm talking about the genesis of an entire "network" -- or maybe "station"  or "channel" -- but I think it's going to become a network with lots of channels carrying the network shows and presenting "local" shows.

I'm talking about gbtv.com  -- yeah, the Glenn Beck exclusive subscription only channel.

Before you start jumping around and screaming, take a deep breath and dismiss the nature of the content from your mind.

We're business people here, and we're talking business model in a world where the 1964 writer's business model has collapsed (maybe because of population growth; maybe not).  Nobody missed the collapse of Borders bookstore chain this year, did they? You've all bought a Kindle Fire or Color Nook?   Now Amazon Prime (film/TV/fast-delivery) has added a free!!! ebook borrowing opportunity.  Publishers have to opt-in and get an advertisement or two tossed into the package -- and authors get paid if their book is borrowed -- but free for an annual fee for Prime.  Think business model, competition, and don't forget to think mating.  Mating spawns new growth. 

Publishing is poof-gone!  The traditional publishers are dinosaurs and, judging by the major, pro-active discontent among widely published authors, the publishers are finally getting the message.

Amazon's growth, proliferation into publishing, diversification, and international footprint have made that insignificant little online bookstore called Amazon the worst enemy and darkest nightmare of Manhattan's paper-based establishment.

Think again about that change in the way younger people assess others for potential relationships.  Amazon allows you to "share" wishlists and purchases, gossip in forums, every social tool there is! 

Think hard about that generation gap and the economic woes as the baby boomers retire.  The baby boomers didn't grow up on the web, they grew up with it.  Heck, they invented it. 

A new generation is finding uses for the Web that shatter the very foundations of society, maybe our entire civilization. 

"When you have a tiger by the tail, there's only one thing to do.  Swarm aboard and ride it." 

Almost at the same time that Glenn Beck launched his gbtv.com venture (it's not only his show; he's doing children's programming, comedy, and a huge charity venture too!)  the Oprah Winfrey cable network lost some major stars and reported dismal quarterly results.  Beck now has a bigger audience that Oprah.  When the goosebumps that idea gave you subside, think hard about what it means in terms of the mating game and competition. 

Cable TV in general has been falling off drastically in the number of viewers who watch any given show.  Cox Cable now provides (for no additional cost) access via the web for subscribers to watch TV episodes and movies -- pretty much trying to compete with Amazon Prime streaming TV, but only some content is available via the web.

Now think about the 16 year old's "Coming Out Party" from the Steampunk/Victorian era.  Girls have traditionally been "marketed" on the "marriage market" and competition has always been fierce.  

Re-read that young marketing consultant's comments.  People who live on the web, just don't have any given piece of fiction or music in common -- there's too much, the audiences have scattered. Yet marketers continue to try to use "social networking" to get these loosely interlaced circles to tell each other about products, to create or unify a market. 

The "Christian Mingle" online dating service advertises they gained more than a million subscribers last year. 

Did you see Microsoft unveiling their Windows 8 platform, designed to compete with touchscreen Apple devices such as iPod, iPhone and iPad?  It makes your desktop more like your hand-held. The iPhone 5 is reputed to be designed for a larger screen.  Consumer's Reports feature article on Cell Phones indicated none of them are good at voice.  Texting and Data is how people communicate now. 

Did you see how schools are equiping kids with iPads?  Schools are raising money for this technology upgrade by asking kids to solicit donations from friends and relatives. 

You're a writer.  Your task in this life is to connect the dots and make a picture of the world for your readers. In SF or Paranormal Romance, you need a dash of futurology.  Extrapolate where these trends are going next.  Keep an eye on that population statistic. 

Connect the dots I've highlighted in these 3 parts of Sizing Up The Competition.

There are lots of dots, and no two writers will make the same connections, display the same picture.

Broadcast networks are GONE.  Blockbuster Video is GONE.  Borders bookstore chain is GONE.  Large scale conglomerate-owned publishers are GONE or going.  Mass market is GONE, sales shrinking while e-books sales grow (and I haven't even talked about audiobooks, which my novels are now entering).

Listen to that marketer's consultant -- young people will not now and probably never will, form a "mass" of anything. 

Mass production may be GONE as Toffler predicted.  We are moving to customized production, not mass production -- though the statistics don't show that yet. If you wait until they show it to write your novel, you'll be too late! 

Mass EMPLOYMENT is likewise a dinosaur.  This generation coming out of college this year is the second generation headed for a life where "career" is not "get a job, keep it, retire."  This is a generation of job-hoppers raised by job-hoppers and ladder-climbers, and it will become the "self-employed" generation.

Remember "climbing the corporate ladder" meant moving your family from place to place for 20 years, so your kids had no continuity of associates, schools, or even state-requirements for graduation from high school.  Those corporate kids are now raising kids. 

So we have a second rootless generation now getting set to raise a generation that lives on the Web!

What do you want to bet "marrying the boy next door" will become "marrying my best Facebook bud?" 

Homeschooled kids best friends are web-acquaintances -- oh, yeah, and iPhone now makes facetalk a generally available way to associate, though the sound isn't so good. 

If you are going to write Romance with rich, deep, complex themes so that the novels you produce become cross-generation classics that last a hundred years and gain vast respect among non-Romance readers -- then you must write for this next rootless generation of Web-buddies, and for the kids they will raise, and for the next generation those kids will raise.

You must make the past of the Victorian era, the 1930's and the 1960's etc accessible, comprehensible, and respectable to those raised in the 21st century.

Even if you wrote such a masterpiece, or a series of them, how would you reach this fragmented generation?

Observe what happens with Glenn Beck's gbtv.com venture -- NOT the content, the business model. He's leaving Manhattan for the lower-tax, more business friendly Texas.  Could it be Manhattan is too expensive for web-TV?  Could that be the deathnell of the BIG CITY living-model? 

Watch what works, what doesn't, what they're copying, what they're emulating, and how they make money at it. Especially watch where they advertise and how much they spend on that.

Watch what happens to Oprah's cable venture, and figure out why. 

Watch for things like this:

I met one of the fellows behind that one on Facebook through the actor who's reading the Sime~Gen novels for audible.com production -- whom I met on twitter.  It's ALL social networking, folks! 

Here's what I'm seeing right now.  

Beck beat the drum on his Web TV launch for months, with a subscriber price of $100/year (about the same as Amazon Prime) for access to all he presents.  ($50 for about half what he's doing online).

But as the launch date approached, all of a sudden he started offering a gadget to connect your TV to his show via the internet -- assuming you have high speed internet at home.

http://web.gbtv.com/roku/index.jsp  -- he's pitching the Roku device.

I tried it.  It's the same kind of deal as google-TV or Viera -- you see a screen full of little squares with logos of subscription services, click from your remote control, find a list of programs offered by that subscription service.  Some are free with ads, some cost an additional annual fee (most all require a signup routine using a computer or suffering through a signup using the half-assed remote control).   Netflix, as you've all heard, raised their fee and lost subscribers.  Now it's tottering on the stock market.  Find out where those subscribers went.  (Amazon Prime is one possibility, Roku another, Hulu is on most of the services that Netflix is on).  They're all "competing for a mate" now!   

If you read the comments on the roku installation somewhere on that website, you'll see not everyone can master it, make it work -- a lot of people were disgusted with the tricky-tech.  I didn't like it, but it only took me about an hour to make it work.  It produces good HD, better than Sony's service. 

I'm not ready to drop cable TV yet, but I can see the economic squeeze making people choose, and they will choose to maintain an internet connection rather than both TV and internet, if they must. 

You have to understand the desperate fervor among Beck's followers.  They are starving for more of the kind of show he put on Fox at 5PM eastern -- so he's now doing 2-hours instead of 1 hour, and he's starting at 5PM eastern, complete with studio audience, replicating the show that drew the largest cable audience and made everyone who follows audience-share statistics panic (which is why they attacked him, not really for his content, but because people listened to that content in preference to other advertising supported content -- business model, remember?)

So even this audience of younger people and older people who just can't cut the tech of installing Roku, want this content, but were not subscribing in sufficient numbers for computer-only apparently.  (or why would he offer a headache like Roku?)  Sales statistics last Christmas were showing "flatscreen tv" as a big item moving briskly and most of them have a plug to connect you to the internet via your household router. 

I upgraded my household tech this year starting in January with my TV.  I got a Panasonic Viera and hardwired it to my router (it's now on wireless to my router).  I got a Sony google-tv blu-ray player, and plugged the HD DVR from Cox into one HDMI plug of the TV and the SONY into another of the 3 HDMI plugs on the TV.  And I hardwired the Sony to my router separately from the TV.  So now my router has a wireless connected computer and 2 wired-connected computers on it plus a blu-ray google-tv device plus a Viera TV.  (Viera doesn't offer google TV - this is a hugely complex market but you need to understand it to solve our master puzzle subject here, raising the prestige of Romance genre among the general public.)

I now have a Roku plugged into the "Game" plug for my TV.  This is called market-research for a reason -- you have to look at markets and figure out what flies where.  

The Viera offers access to Netflix (as does the Sony and Roku) and some other things I don't use, but Viera's business model is to provide more kinds of online access with time -- I haven't seen any additions this year. Roku has a variety of offerings I don't see elsewhere. 

Next week we'll explore the fragmentation of the "audience" and the way content providers (like you, the writer) are spinning in bewilderment but boldly and heroically chasing that audience, or attracting new audiences, out-building or maybe out-competing their forebears. 

The Fiction Delivery System has changed.

You must understand those changes to take advantage of them to deliver your stories to your specific audience. 

But better yet would be to anticipate (as in the science fiction writer's mainstay, futurology) the future changes, so you can position your fiction where it can't be missed by the evolving system.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Your blog is making me think! and remember. I have a dvd of Goldeneye and I still wince when the computer geek brags about his 14.4 modem. most kids alive now wouldn't know what that was. i think those of us writing SF based fiction have to look further down the road and you give some great ways to do it. many thanks for a thought provoking blog!

  2. I'm working on a novella about a young man and woman who are close "friends" through e-mail and "meet face to face" for the first time in a virtual reality environment. I'm glad that doesn't sound implausible.

    As for the disappearance of Blockbuster, last week I truly missed our corner store for the first time since it closed and I was forced to join Netflix as the alternative rental source. I could have probably walked into the store and picked up THE HELP the week it was released on DVD. Netflix apparently didn't stock enough copies, so they are giving us a "Very long wait" message for that movie. Inefficiency or callous exploitation of their monopoly? (Some movies I don't want to own -- I just want to watch once.)