From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
We’re all familiar with the “fierce urgency of now.” We have experienced it all of our lives. It’s that feeling that we have to have something or have to do something right now or we’ll lose the chance.
When it comes to buying something, “the fierce urgency of now” used to drive our purchasing life. Back in the days of brick-and-mortar stores only, back in the days of appointment-radio, appointment-television, and appointment-movie attendance, the fierce urgency of now was a very real thing.
If you didn’t watch a TV show the night it aired, you might never get to see that show. If you didn’t see a movie in the theater, you might never get to see that movie. If you didn’t buy a book when you saw it on a store shelf, you might never see that book again.
The fierce urgency of now governed everything, because space was limited. Bookstores had only so much square footage, and that square footage was devoted to the latest books. The amount of time a new book remained on the shelf—known as the turn—went from nearly two months to as short as two weeks (in the early 1990s).
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The fierce urgency of now has a completely different meaning in 2013. Thirty years ago, it meant “See this or miss it forever!” These days, it means, “Bring it to me the instant I want it.”
And that difference changed our entertainment culture from a limited top-down monolithic culture to a seemingly unlimited consumer culture. In the past, we had to choose from what the gatekeepers offered us. Now, we can choose not only from all of the things (or most of them) that were published, produced, filmed (you name it) in the past, but also from a wide variety of things that never got vetted at all.
Our entertainment culture has become dynamic, but it’s also weirdly personal. When Dean and I started teaching twenty-some years ago, we would use certain movies as an example of good plotting because we knew that everyone attending our classes had seen those movies. Now, we can’t make that assumption.
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Right now, the large multimedia companies are grappling with this change. Their businesses are still based on velocity, so they need consumers to buy a new product within weeks, sometimes days, of that product’s release. In other words, the large multimedia companies still believe that the fierce urgency of now still operates on the 20th century model, and in book publishing at least, the traditional companies are very confused by the change.
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To make matters worse, consumer habits are changing. That change became evident over this past weekend in the United States. According to data compiled by IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, more people shopped online on Cyber Monday than ever before and—more importantly—more people shopped on Cyber Monday (as it’s now called) than on Black Friday. The revenue for Cyber Monday was 31.5% higher than the revenue for Black Friday.
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“You’re seeing more and more consumers shopping online instead of going to bricks-and-mortar retailers. People are under the impression that the Internet has cheaper prices and is more convenient, allowing you to avoid the crowds.”
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I wrote about the bestseller problem a few weeks ago—with all of the major publishers releasing their major titles within weeks of each other (sometimes overlapping). And it’s turning out as I predicted. Many guaranteed New York Times bestsellers are not New York Times bestsellers with their current books. Some former #1 bestsellers didn’t even crack the top ten.
That velocity thing doesn’t work when everyone plays the game. Or maybe, it does work, and it shows which writers have succeeded in making their work a must-buy no matter what the season.
Indie writers are seeing the problems with velocity also. A lot of writers are complaining that “free” doesn’t work any more or that they can’t even get their titles into successful non-traditional advertising venues like Book Bub, whereas they used to get their titles into those places in the past.
When you’re the thousandth guy to jump on a bandwagon, then that bandwagon isn’t going to be as big a deal as it was for the first 100 guys.
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1. Let your readers know when the book is published.
2. When you publish the next book in the series, make sure the first book is advertised in the back of that book (along with any other genre-related books you might do and a link to your website).
3. Jump on the right bandwagon. When Downton Abbey became successful, a handful of traditional publishers shocked the crap out of me by actually doing correct marketing. They brought back some titles set in the same milieu as Downton Abbey, with new covers. They targeted their marketing to a different crowd—the PBS crowd here in the U.S.—and those books started to sell again.
4. Remember books don’t age. Just like music doesn’t. Just like movies don’t.
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In other words, just because your book isn’t successful now doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. Or, conversely, just because your book did well on its release, doesn’t mean its selling days are over. It can be revived, if you time things right, with the idea of discoverability.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch
A couple of thoughts drifted into PG’s mind as he read this excellent essay.
As has been mentioned on The Passive Voice many times, the ebook/ecommerce combination is a disruptive technology (go here if you don’t know what that means).
One consistent element in all business earthquakes caused by disruptive technology is that the tech which changes the world is less-expensive than the technology it replaces and allows lower prices for customers. Personal computers were much less expensive than the computers they replaced. Music lovers could buy the song they really wanted for 99 cents on iTunes instead of paying $13.95 in a music store for a CD which included a bunch of songs they didn’t really want.
If indie authors are in the process of disrupting traditional publishers, one of the ways they’re doing it is by using lower prices.
The infrastructure necessary to support an indie author (laptop plus internet connection plus someplace to sit while you write) is much, much less expensive than the infrastructure necessary to support HarperCollins. So the indie author can sell ebooks for 99 cents when HarperCollins can’t afford to do so.
Another huge advantage of indie authors is that they are far more agile than traditional publishers. The book acquisition, development and release process takes months, maybe more, at a traditional publisher. Yes, they can rush out an instant book on Nelson Mandela, but doing so means going outside the normal publishing process and slows down everything else when it happens.
An indie author isn’t weighted down with a cumbersome production infrastructure and marketing process. If he/she decides cowboy zombie cooking erotica is the next big thing, the first book can be up on Amazon very, very quickly. And the second book can follow shortly thereafter. And it doesn’t matter whether a Barnes & Noble buyer thinks the book will sell or not.
The indie author knows that readers will decide.