who will own your audience: thoughts on the future of publishing
We are all publishers now.
Content is everywhere. We are drowning in content.
When the supply of content exceeds the demand, publishing futurist Mike Shatzkin (and thanks to the excellent Jane Friedman for drawing my attention to this post) asks “What is the new scarce item that will attract the dollars?”
Welcome to the Attention Economy.
Whoever controls the eyeballs, controls the world.
The publishers who win the game – and change the game – will be those, says Shatzkin, “who use the content they control – which today does have value — as “bait” to attract the attention of people and then to keep the attention and build a business around it.”
Stephen Covey startled the book world when he signed with Amazon giving them exclusive e-book rights to his next books.
Amazon of course owns the Kindle.
As more e-readers start to hit the market, what they offer in terms of content will likely become how they distinguish and differentiate themselves.
Which means that, in future, my choice of e-reader won’t depend on the latest techno widgets and wonders – which they’ll all have anyway – but the selection of exclusive content they offer.
As more writers follow Covey’s example, the most powerful of them will flock to where the audience is – and if Amazon owns that audience, then Amazon will also own them.
Floods of content translate into a niche market – something for everybody, the long tail.
As the mainstream continues to disintegrate we’ll become increasingly dependent on ways to filter the content we like and need from everything else. Because excellent content that is relevant to me will become harder and harder to find.
A stark illustration of this hit my radar screen last month. A major agent told me that he sold a Mind, Body, Spirit author’s book to Random House, which sold 12,000 copies. He sold the next book by the same author to niche publisher Hay House, which sold 200,000 copies! And Hay House, with over a million email addresses of people all interested in the same type of book, probably spent less on marketing to sell eight times as many.
This post suggests that the future of the web is not realtime but “ambient streams”:
These are streams of information bubbling up in realtime, which seek us out, surround us, and inform us. They are like a fireplace bathing us in ambient infoheat. I believe that users will not go to a page and type in a search in a search box. Rather the information will appear to them in an ambient way on a range of devices and through different experiences.
Perhaps the world of digital publishing will belong to the publishers who create the best ‘ambient streams’: the flow of high-quality fiction and nonfiction that appeals to a specific kind of audience.
If I opt in to that audience, they could send that flow directly to me and I won’t have to bother looking anywhere else (who has the time?). Which means that other publishers and writers will lose ability to influence me, since we can only influence those who are paying any attention to us in the first place.
The idea behind author platforms is to develop an audience.
To develop the ability to own your audience.
Writers are no longer writers and marketers…but creative entrepreneurs and influencers.
Welcome to the world of Influence Marketing:
Influence marketing happens when you promote yourself indirectly. You influence someone with your style, your behavior and how much they like you. It is “personality” promotion. You are so well liked or respected that people want to be like you or associated with you in some way. That means buying what you recommend because they believe in and/or like you.
Influence, says Technosailor “is not manipulative but leads from a position of conversational power.”
Whether you believe in the concept of “personal brand”, or you dismiss it outright, the desire to latch onto a recognized individual plays out everyday.
Being a celebrity is a dead end road. Celebrities simply wow people with imagery and public facing acts. Being an influencer involves changing games and lives and moving needles…
To be an influencer, you’re going to have to balance that self brand, personal marketing for the sake of being known with providing absolute, unquestioned value to the greater community. Carrying the mantle of an influencer means being a celebrity for the community. It means always giving of yourself so that the rest of the crowd benefits. It’s almost self-sacrificial, flying in the face of personal brand or celebrity.
If writers are to be influencers – if they are to own their audience – then they have to give of themselves. Traditionally published novels will lend credibility and prestige – since traditional publishing is still an incredible and much-needed filter – but become only one part of a writer’s chest of treasures to offer the reader.
True value comes from what can’t be downloaded or shared. This is the writer’s presence. This is his or her interaction with the community in general and individuals in particular.
Direct connection with the writer also means much more direct connection with the work itself, and the blood, sweat and labor that goes into it. When people can see that process and understand it, they’ll have more respect for the labor…and be more willing to pay for its fruits.
The best creative entrepreneurs are also visionaries in one form or another. Visionaries understand that you must allow others to opt in to that vision, to feel they have a part to play in it.
This could be the difference, perhaps, between being owned…or collaborating in an authentic and rewarding writer-audience partnership.