People care about the things they want, need and think they deserve- not you.
So how do you respond?
Everything is connected. No matter how much the publishing industry wants to believe it exists in a bubble, that’s not true. The problems facing the music/movie/gaming industries are your problems too. That’s the trouble with content: it’s so abundant that you may find yourself having to throw down like Jan Brady in an afro wig just to get a little attention. The focus needs to shift from “What do people consume?” to “How do people consume?” The goal is to transcend “me vs. them” to get to “us.” This calls for a reality check.
Publishers aren’t content pushers: you’re service providers. Your job is to hook readers up with content that is packaged in a context they consider valuable like:
Making content accessible to consumers in ways that meet their needs, as opposed to the “take it or leave it” model.
• DRM-free formats
• All book formats (audiobooks, eBooks, hardcovers, paperbacks) released at the same time
• Reasonable pricing (from a consumer standpoint);
Delivering a high quality product.
• Attractive/durable materials
• Proper editing/formatting
• Attentive customer service.
Think of it like this: the Kindle is not just a device, it provides a service. The e-reader itself is the content, but access to Kindle’s e-bookstore and the servers that provide its wireless delivery is the service.
Authors create content AND collaborate with their publishers to provide a valuable experience for their fans. Finding ways to connect directly with fans is key. For example:
• Throw out content (a sentence, a chapter, one of your character’s sex fantasies), give fans the chance to do something with it (make a music video, turn it into a puppet show) and post the results on your website- do not then legalize the experience with posts of “All created content using my work belongs to me.”
Author’s note: If this sounds wrong, then you are a greedy, money-grubbing parasite and there’s no hope for you. Go back to your tower and feed your mattress.
• Turn interviews into events: if you’re doing a press junket, let your fans know and invite them to hang out afterward. Ask them to recommend a bar or coffee shop and take them with you.
• Offer exclusive, limited edition merchandise packages for the hardcore fan: hardcover books, first drafts, inspirational back stories, the coffee cup used exclusively during the creation of the work, whatever is significant: autograph everything, make it high quality, treat it as a souvenir to be cherished and charge appropriately.
Authors complain that not everyone has the personality or the time to do things like this. My response is: then don’t. There are no absolutes on how to add value to your content. You need to figure out what works for you. Trying to shove yourself into someone else’s hot pants and FMPs is ridiculous, but so is doing the bare minimum in marketing and hoping like mad for results. Don’t believe the lie that all that matters is the writing. Content is everywhere: making yours stand out from the competition is where you’ll find your success.
Changes need to happen on several fronts to get the book publishing industry healthy again. I’m only focusing on two in this post.
Copyright law needs to relax on the non-commercial uses clause, for one thing. There is so much potential for good when material is allowed to be remixed and distributed on a non-commercial basis. I may have an amazing heat-seeking unicorn I write about that flies around the world fighting environmental polluters, but if I have zero marketing skills, who’s going to know about it? But here comes Mauricio, a graphic artist who loves my idea and creates a logo, adding the slogan “Queenie, the Unicorn: The Sludge Stops Here” (you’d have to see it to really appreciate it). He then posts this on his website. One of his friends likes what he sees and emails it, and so on. Over time, Queenie, the Unicorn gets some buzz, which I can then use to sell my book. I may even ask Mauricio if he wants to do some collaborations or merchandising. It’s a win/win situation and no one had to get sued. Creativity should be encouraged, not punished, so your fans can help you and vice versa. Stand back, I feel a soapbox coming on.
I thought I’ve said all there is to say on the issue of piracy, but so many people are still hyper-focused on lost revenue that I’m obviously mistaken. Why don’t I offer a down and dirty version and see where that takes us? Barring ignorance, people steal for three reasons: 1) a perception that authors/publishers are swimming in money so they can afford to take the hit; 2) consumers have a healthy level of disdain for sue-happy corporate douche bags and enjoy stealing from them; 3) people simply like to get things free.
Reasons 1 & 2 stem from a PR problem. Consumers feel disconnected from the people they steal from so it’s easier to do. Developing relationships (engaging with fans, sharing the experience) will give people a reason to invest in you and your long term success. Reason 3 exists because there’s an overabundance of content- this is basic economics (How many thousands of books get printed every day?). Getting around this problem requires personalization. Giving things away is an investment in good will and audience development; there’s no reason to steal when things are free. Yes, absolutely, authors should be compensated for their work, but the things people are willing to pay for are the features that make how they use your content easier or provide the “Wow!” factor; things they can’t or don’t get from anyone else.
This cannot be said enough: if you’re focused on protecting your content, rather than investing in it, you’re wasting resources on the wrong problem. If you act like a corporate douche bag that’s how you’re going to be treated. Who benefits most from sending your fans to jail or bankrupting them? The lawyers. Are you going to sue everyone? Will the idea of piracy simply disappear if you do? Play nicely with your fans and have fun. Lawyers should always be the last resort.
Another change that is long overdue is the power shift from publisher to author. Authors are assuming more and more responsibility for their own commercial success, even to the point of self-publishing, to get a bigger share of the profit. The option of self-publishing is a mainstream alternative that, when done correctly, can rival and exceed the results of a traditional publisher (it’s harder, but it has been done). But the thing is the services that publishing houses provide are important. Successful books need professional editing, cover design, marketing, distribution, etc. to be competitive in the marketplace. Traditional publishing houses offer these things as a convenience, but as they are no longer the only source for such content thanks to non-traditional publishers and freelancers, the playing field is wide open. The author is now empowered with choices. Yea, choices!
Smaller publishers are emerging to fill in the gaps and provide greater competition to big publishing, which can only be good. Collaborative partnerships will be adopted between authors and publishers, with each given an equal voice and shared risk. An environment of inclusivity will be adopted as authors find their niche audiences, eliminating the role of publisher as gatekeeper. And through all of this, authors will be forced to become more business savvy- as it should be.
Sorry fantasy lovers, but the age of monolithic corporatism is dead. Change is in the air. Content alone is not enough. Sharing is in.
Let the hate mail begin.