From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
This past week, with the pricing discussion, I realized that a bunch of assumptions about price—well known in retail—are completely new to publishing. Traditional publishers are so lazy about their pricing and discoverability strategies that they rarely think about what they’re actually doing. They just work reflexively—and indie writers have mimicked that.
. . . .
As writers, we have been “raised” in the business to believe that readers are one gigantic mass of creatures, all the same. Yet as readers, we know that’s not true. Just because Gillian Flynn’s book Gone Girl spent weeks on The New York Times bestseller list doesn’t mean all of us will like the book. Some of us will love it and some of us will wonder what everyone else saw in it, even if we bought it. Some of us will look at it and wonder who the heck would buy it at all. Some of us will buy the book after the movie comes out in October because we hadn’t heard of this major bestseller until New Regency Films started advertising the movie. (Because, y’know, traditional publishers don’t spend money on TV advertising. That would be so…last century.)
We readers know that’s how it works. We writers forget it.
And traditional publishers never think about it at all.
They treat all books by advance level. The amount of marketing dollars put into books varies according to the advance paid to the author, not how many fans the author has. In theory, advance and fans should correlate, but in reality, they don’t.
Traditional publishers don’t really pay attention to a fan base. Publishers sell books to distributors and bookstores, remember, and so target their advertising to those companies. When the chain bookstores took over the business, traditional publishers only had to convince a handful of book buyers to take tens of thousands of copies of certain books, based not on the author’s sales record, but on what was “hot” or a “great cover” or a “new concept.”
Independent booksellers bought what their customers wanted, but independent booksellers, who do not buy in bulk, have very little clout with traditional publishers.
. . . .
As a result, no one has broken down the retail side of the business with the idea of targeting the advertising toward the actual final customer—the reader.
No one has except, of course, the romance writers.
. . . .
Because most of the romance genre is mostly written by women and sold mostly to women, the notoriously sexist publishing industry of the 1970s and 1980s did not believe those books sold. Remember, publishing would target booksellers, not actual readers, and many bookstore owners refused to carry “that stuff” in their stores. I bought my romances back in the day at drug stores and through Harlequin’s subscription service.
It wasn’t until 1982 or so that romance began to make an impact, and that was because the romance writers started banding together and proved to the industry that their books sold. Romance Writers of America was founded in 1980 with this kind of advocacy in mind.
And because bookstores refused to carry many of these books, romance writers were the ones who developed all kinds of marketing techniques that many of you still believe you need to use now. Some of the techniques are absolutely valuable, and we’ll be discussing them in the future, like newsletters and fan-based activities. Some have seen their day, like bookmarks and flyers, and we’ll discuss those too.
But what you need to know, what’s important to know, is that the romancewriters are the only ones who have ever done a reader survey for the point of marketing books.
. . . .
A lot has been written about the true fan in the past few years, but let me quote former Wired editor and (as John Scalzi calls him) Web Thinker, Kevin Kelly, who, so far as I can tell, started this meme in 2008 or so:
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
. . . .
Why did I tell you all of this? Because, marketing one way to all readers—whether it’s free or expensive, whether it’s one type of book or another—ignores how complex readers as consumers really are.
When I talk about marketing strategies, I’m talking from this complex model, not the traditional publishing all-readers-are-the-same model.
The moment you stop thinking like traditional publishers is the moment your writing business will take off.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch
What Kris writes about is also called market segmentation. Unlike publishing, the reality-based business world has used very sophisticated market segmentation for a long time.
Sophisticated market segmentation can create different products for different customer needs – running shoes for training, competition, off-road, under-pronaters, over-pronaters, etc.
Market segmentation can involve pricing and packaging – Store brand tissue vs. Kleenex vs. Costco’s packaging of 20 boxes of Kleenex into a single bulk pack. Store brand soda vs. Coca-Cola. Expensive perfumes vs. lower-priced perfumes.
Market segmentation can involve psychic or image needs – designer clothing vs. no-name, French vs. California wines, famous California wines vs. unknowns, etc., etc.
(PG knows he’s stepped into a snakepit with wines, but he will point to blind taste-tests that show most consumers can’t tell which wine is expensive and which is not. He also seems to remember hearing about tests where consumers were told the cheap wine was expensive and the expensive wine was cheap and most thought the cheap wine tasted better.)
Amazon and indie authors are a great example of how books can be segmented into various sub-sub-genres categories and keywords that go way beyond the crude BISAC categories.