From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
I opened a can of worms in my own head when I wrote last week’s blog which I titled “Stars.” The post deals with the fact that there are no big names in entertainment any longer, except for legacy names, like Harrison Ford in movies and Stephen King in fiction. A source I quoted from The Hollywood Reporter believed that there were no new stars created in the movies since about 2008, which he blamed on the collapse of the DVD market.
Although he had his finger on part of the problem, I don’t think he saw all of it.
. . . .
What happened in movies in 2008? The same thing that happened to books at the turn of the century. Part of their distribution system collapsed.
The music industry started dealing with this in the 1990s as well, as the record stores vanished and iTunes took over. I don’t know if any of you have looked at iTunes recently, but trying to find the latest hit single by anyone let alone someone you like requires using the search function, rather than seeing what’s happening on the home page.
The collapse of the distribution system—or rather, the changes in distribution—have had an impact on us all. One of the things the change has done is level the playing field. Now anyone with the proper equipment can enter an artistic arena with more than a snowball’s chance in hell of not only having a success but having multiple successes.
The problem is as it always was—discoverability.
I’m going to move off of the entire entertainment industry now, and look at books. As I wrote last time, books were part of a curated system, in which tastemakers (editors, publishers, publishing houses) determined what choices readers had in the books that hit the shelves.
Those shelves were limited, both in time and space. As a local bookstore owner learned back when I lived in Oregon, if you keep books on the shelves until those books sold, your store went from a store that featured “new” books to a store that featured books from years gone by. The product (books) had to be refreshed constantly or readers had no reason to browse.
Twenty years ago, the publishing industry was a B2B industry. It sold books to bookstores—business to business—and hadn’t learned any other way to do so. Traditional publishing is still a B2B operation, even though most bookstores have gone online or gone away entirely.
Indie publishers are a B2C business—Business to Consumer. It’s a much better system. We need to market to readers, not to some bookstore chain or nameless distributor somewhere.
The problem is that the book promotion shorthand is based on B2B, not B2C.
What’s the difference (besides the obvious final letter)? The owners of other businesses do not have the time to read all of the product in their stores. Back in the day of the megabookstores like Barnes & Noble once strived to be, there were literally thousands of books on the shelves, with hundreds more clamoring to get in each month.
No one can read all of that.
The local bookstore I mentioned above, the one that got stuck in amber, probably had five hundred titles in the store, and even when those titles remained on the shelf for 18 months, the employees still did not have time to read everything.
The consumer, on the other hand—who shall, from henceforth, be called the reader because it is more accurate—has one of two attitudes toward a book that floats past their eyeballs.
The first attitude is hey! I haven’t read that yet! What is it?
The second attitude is oh, yeah! I like that series and/or the previous book by that author. I’ll take a look at this one.
Then there’s the third attitude, one that doesn’t happen with a book in front of the eyes. The third attitude happens when there is no book. That attitude is Hey! Does Suzette T. Writer have a new book out? I should check.
Or that third attitude might be framed this way: Hey! Is there a new book in the AngelCat Extraordinaire Series? I should check.
Nothing in B2B marketing does more than answer the second two questions, maybe. And probably the only question it might answer is the one about Suzette T. Writer…provided Suzette T. Writer is what traditional publishing called a big name.
Readers buy stories. They want stories that will appeal to them. In addition, they want more of the same but with a surprise or two packed inside.
Traditional publishing did do one thing right in its quest for shorthand. It created genre categories. Genre categories and the subgenres within made it possible in a B2B world for readers to find the type of stories that they liked without relying on big names.
Ironically, genres weren’t created with marketing in mind. Or maybe that’s not ironic, considering how averse traditional publishing was to actual marketing. I was about to launch, yet again, into the history of traditional publishing marketing which I’ve written maybe a dozen times. I plucked history out of a past post and put it up on my Patreon page for everyone to read. I suggest you go there, so you understand how the marketing for traditional publishing evolved.
Anyway, genre and subgenre categories were the only thing that made life easier for the reader. The rest of what traditional publishing did made life easier for the distributors and the bookstores, by freeing up shelf space. This is why book series would often stop in the middle with no hope of finishing the saga or why an author would completely vanish from the shelves.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch
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