It’s the summer of 2010. Gas costs $8/gallon. Air fares have nearly doubled. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published. Hundreds of thousands more writers have published books themselves.
The American Booksellers Association has lost more than 50 percent of its membership. The biggest national bookstore chains have merged into one super corporation AND this new entity is now in the publishing business too. AND it’s only carrying its own products or those produced by "affiliates."
Sorry to be a bummer, man, but the landscape is changing.
When things look bleakest, I am an optimist. Maybe it’s my contrary spirit. I just don’t like being told that anything is all gloom and doom. In the middle of great change, great opportunity exists.
What will our brave new world of literary livelihood look like? With the millions of voices sure to be flogging their works in the near future — and doing it to a shrinking market — how will we writers continue to build careers, to make enough to send our kids to college or pay for that pesky root canal?
Believe it or not, I’m not upset or even worried . . . not yet.
My agent, who has been in the business for more than 20 years, talks about how people have bemoaned the demise of the industry, of books, for as long as he’s been selling manuscripts. Yet, books and the biz are still around.
I suspect that staying power will still be the name of the game. That, and sheer determination.
But I want my crystal ball to start working NOW! I want to find the mechanisms to meaningfully connect with potential readers even if I don’t travel to their neck o’ the woods. There must be new ways to engender that personal touch besides "Friending" or "Guesting on Blogs" (Virtual book tours, as they’re practiced today, are the same kind of thing).
Do you remember when acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood came up with the LongPen? Everyone scoffed. Not so, now. Virtual book signings — real events with interactive video — may be the way of the future. They’d certainly be greener.
What about the authors who have managed to turn their websites into entire and vital communities? Charlaine Harris has done it. I met 16 of her fans who traveled from as far away as Texas to attend Malice Domestic this year. She’s got a message board and all kinds of conversations going with her fans. Now the fans are taking some of the load off of her, but she still visits and posts often.
Are there media out there that we haven’t ever discussed, only dreamed about, that may truly aid us all? What about holographic book tours? Why not? How about books you can talk with — and where the author answers back?
What else is out there — or might be — if we just let ourselves have fun and imagine?
Come on, jump in and let’s see what we can come up with. It’s time to have some fun.
Pari, thanks for this. It brings up some things I’ve been thinking about a lot myself lately.
I think the key word is going to be interactivity. People aren’t happy anymore being marketed at. They want to be able to talk back, as Charlaine has found (As well as Lee Child, who has an active and lively message board where the conversation ends up being about a lot more topics than just Lee and his work).
I recently saw a short video of a lecture by a guy named Clay Shirky, who teaches at NYU among other things. One of the things that jumped out at me was this:
“I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen… She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, “What you doing?” And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, ‘Looking for the mouse.’
Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for.”
The whole transcript is here: http://www.shirky.com/herecomeseverybody/2008/04/looking-for-the-mouse.html
And I link to the video here: http://jdrhoades.blogspot.com/2008/05/where-do-people-find-time-and-art-of.html
So whatever we do, it’s going to need to bring the reader in as an active participant.
Dear Pari: Thank you for this. The LongPen is indeed up and running, and we hope it will make it easier for authors to interact with readers, especially in places that are off the beaten book-tour track. And at the end of May we’re testing a LongPen/holographic projection from Toronto to the book festival in Lillehammer, Norway… Good luck with your endeavors! All best, Margaret Atwood
Dusty,I think what you’ve written is key. It’s that interaction that makes the event valuable. I’ve often wondered if it’s achievable through electrons.
But when I think about email or other electronic mechanisms, I realize they’re almost as effective as personal visits when it comes to “marketing.”
People want connection — real connection — but there’s potential variety in how that connection manifests.
Will the PERSONAL TOUCH supercede the PERSON?
Dear Margaret,I was a little stunned to see your name in the comments. It’s like being visited by an idol . . .
How has the LongPen been received? Do readers adore the fact that they get the signature and to see you — electronically — or do they think it’s odd?
I think it’s a challenging shift for Baby Boomers to warm up to the belief that anything can replace physical presence, but that the newer generations will have no problem with it.
Pari, your doomsday scenario looks pretty accurate … except that gas will be well over $8 a gallon.
I adore the notion of an interactive virtual tour, and Ms. Atwood’s Long Pen may give us just that extra feeling of “being there” that the writer and the reader both desire.
Hats off to her, not only for her writing but for her innovation.
I, too, think interactivity and connectedness will be the key. Humans, as a species, seem to need and thrive on making connections, and today’s kids — who grow up with instant messaging, Facebook, SMS texting, and all the rest — are accustomed to communications that flow both directions.
I think this is one reason the broadcast media business is having a hard time right now: They’re still, for the most part, pushing information out of some central repository (be it the local paper or NBC HQ), but they’re not doing a whole lot to create a “backhaul” for information to flow the other way. The watchwords for people of my daughter’s generation are dialogue, community, interaction and connectedness. And traditional mass media don’t engage that. Hence the popularity of blogs (like this one), author communities, and all the rest.
This is something I’ve struggled to explain to people like my father: My online friendships have a different quality than my offline ones, but they’re no less “real” as relationships. People who grew up before the age of the Internet, by and large, seem to have a hard time grasping that concept. There are people (including several of the ‘Rati gang) who I count among my friends, even though I’ve never met any of you in the offline world. Which begs an interesting question: to what degree is a physical presence necessary to a relationship? I don’t know, but I bet the answer – and the technologies developed to help answer it – will shape the landscape in which we operate in the future.
Sad to say, I don’t think the status quo in the media industry is going to change much for another 10 years or so, until today’s college grads — the first generation not to remember “before the Internet” — grow up, get jobs and get promoted high enough to start influencing the decision-making processes. In the meantime, the TV networks will continue fielding 60-something white guys in suits to tell us about the news, advertisers will keep spending millions on Super Bowl network spots, newspapers will keep killing trees by the forest-full, and they’ll all keep wondering why a decreasing number of people give a rat’s ass.
Pari, this is a perfect, timely post for me. After traveling to a few conferences and not getting as much reader interaction as I’d like, I’m reassessing as well. How to meet readers, how to gain readers, without extensive touring?
Just how important is that personal interaction? How do you quantify those numbers? I think the readers who come to conferences are fabulous, and I wish there were more of them. Meanwhile, I’d love to find a way to tour virtually, write articles that attract new readers in new markets, and save the money and expense and hassle of travel.
Ms. Atwood’s LongPen is a fascinating idea. I think it’s a cool, exciting way to get to know your readers.
There is a shift coming. With books on cellphones being such a huge market overseas, that technology will be here shortly. We need to embrace what’s coming and find ways to work with it.
Louise,I bet gas will be higher in the Bay Area.
I know I was skeptical about the LongPen at first. Now, I’m once again impressed with Atwood’s visionary capabilities.
Tammy,You raise all kinds of important points.
I read a fair amount of science fiction and fantasy and have to say that I’m rethinking how connection can be effective. Today’s generation will be more linked, more in contact, than we ever were. Who’s to say that just because that contact is electronic rather than physical, that it’s any less valid?
Friendship made online are incredibly valuable, enriching — and real — in IMHO.
The two-way (or more) communication that is increasing becoming the norm is bound to affect how we interact with our readers.
Frankly, I’m excited by the possibilities . . .
J.T.,If anyone is going to find a way to connect meaningfully in the ether, it’ll be you!
I think this discussion is just the beginning and I want it to continue as we discover how to increase that interaction with readers.
What Dusty says about “not being marketing to” is very important.
We need to be savvy while retaining our heart.
It sounds almost impossible, but I suspect it’ll be fun once we figure out how to make it happen.
I wanted to add something to my earlier post – a real-world, example, if you will.
This morning, my sister and I had a chat. She’s 20-something, a college student in Canada, so a lot of our communication is virtual. She visited my Facebook page and left a message. Her message asked me to get on MSN Messenger for our chat. Within seconds of her leaving me that message, Facebook automatically sent me an e-mail, as well as an SMS message to my cell phone. As it happens, I saw the SMS first, and I went to the office to get online.
In one interaction, we had 5 different communication technologies at work — Web, email, instant messenger, cell phone network, and SMS data. Not counting Facebook’s Web servers, three different communication devices were employed. This is how the youth of today roll.
Now, what happens in a year or so, when iPhones aren’t $500 and all that interaction can happen on a little device with a touch screen that fits in your pocket? How will authors reach the always-on, always-connected generation and build that relationship? How will we be able to take advantage of a constantly-available, bidirectional communication channel to our readers? And, more importantly, how will we be able to do it in a way that creates mutual value on both ends of the communication channel?
I don’t have any answers, but these are some of the questions I think we’ll all be grappling with.
My mind is officially blown.
Heh. Gonna get worse, Pari. Or better, depending on how you look at it.
Authors doing digital videoconferencing online and on other electronic devices (IPod, e-readers, cell phones, etc.). E-books with features like interview with the author, etc. More downloadable audio books available with special features. Revamping of the large-print industry so that retiring baby boomers don’t feel bad buying them. More visuals in books aimed towards young people. More storylines featuring people of color. Less books being published.
Naomi,Great to see you here today.
You know, your comment reminds me of those moving pictures in the newspapers in the Harry Potter books/movies.
Will books be like director’s cut dvds with outtakes and all those other special features. It’s fun to think of that. Makes me want to get an iPod/iphone or other electronic media to see what’s up.
I have a feeling these intruments will become even more intuitive to use in a few years.
Twenty years ago my dad, who was in the book business (albeit medical books, with W. B. Saunders), said that when the big chain bookstores forced out most of the indies, publishers would turn more and more to the chains, show them manuscripts, and asked if they’d sell them. If the bookstores didn’t seem enthusiastic, the books wouldn’t be published.
Any indication this is happening?
Hi Peri – it was great to meet you last week at the Festival of Mystery.
Speaking as a bookseller and a reader, I think that there is nothing like personal appearances to appeal to readers. However, as most publishers cut their touring budgets, you need to be more choosy – multi-author signings, where there is a history of sales and attendance, is smart.
Looking to the future – we are talking about having an author speak to one of our book groups online – it’s a far cry from Potter’s books coming to life in your hands, but it is a first step.
Lots of food for thought here – thanks!
Tom,I do know of a case of a bookstore dictating cover art for a book (there are probably many more, but this one happened to an acquaintance of mine). I’m not sure about content yet.
However, chains are getting into the classics business with their own “crib notes.” I don’t think the idea of chains printing their own even more is too far fetched.
Kathy,Great to meet you, too. And it’s wonderful to see you here.
I’ve thought about book groups quite a bit. It’d be wonderful to have personal contact with readers in other states. I know of authors who do speaker phone events and wonder how effective those are.
Which would be preferable? The voice with the speaker phone or the writing in the online environment?
I wonder . . .
You think the LongPen shows Margaret Atwood’s vision – have you read Oryx and Crake?
I haven’t read the new one yet. I’m almost scared to. The Handmaid’s Tale still gives me the shivers . . .
I have some hope for the proliferation of online friendships, if only because it’ll be harder to hurt someone in a distant country when you have VR friends there, and it’ll encourage people to help for the same reason.
I had a bit of a queasy moment when my former co-worker told me that they’re opening up an “online bookshop” on Second Life (a virtual community) because it seems so impersonal. But honestly, she may be riding the wave of the future. They have author discussions there, real time with people typing in questions or conversing on microphones. Then people who want the actual book can order it through the online bookstore. Or download it, in the future.
Give me a real book and face-to-face interaction with the author, but I’m over 50, and am so not the new demographic.
Fran,I’m with you, but I think things are going to change exponentially in the coming decade.
Do YOU spend any time in Second Life? I know some romance authors who adore it.
I don’t think anything will completely erase the merits of face-to-face contact. In fact, I think one of those Internet gurus has said that he’ll always go out to meet people because there’s power in those kind of meetings.
I hope you’re right, Naomi. I can’t bear the thought of a world where human contact, the face to face, wouldn’t be important.
But, with technology changing so rapidly, I can certainly imagine it.
A lot of my communications minor seems to touch on what’s been discussed here.I only just make it into Gen X. Which I’ve seen described as digital adaptives in regards to technology advances as we’ve had to weave it into our way of doing. Just as Tammy described. Gen Y & Z are described as digital natives… being immersed since birth. Boomers are tagged digital immigrants.
I think this quote from a paper developed by McCrindle Research applies to the interactivity needs of consumers today.
‘We are dealing with consumers today who need to be engaged more on the emotive scale than the cognitive scale. They have been influenced not just by the scientific method but also by virtual reality. For them it is a world of experience – notjust evidence.’
I’ve noticed that technology put into the hands of users often take on connective qualities the designers never thought of. Mobile/Cell phones I remember orginally looked like bricks with handles, and were mainly used for business contacts. That’s mutated into an almost running commentary of daily life between people now. I do remember reading somewhere that a lot of underdeveloped countries communication systems were largely dependant on mobile phone technology, as the land based infrastructure of cable was too expensive. Downloadable books for the global mobile phone market?
Also is there a generational mass of mystery/crime/thriller readers? My 19 year old daughter happily consumes Noir short stories. Mainly reads on the train. My eldest daughter, 24 finds it all too dark. My mother sticks to gentle mysteries. We have a generational information flow, where we all help each other understand different tech applications. So it’s not as though we would be unable to interact…
The other trend I see again and again, is the power of ‘word of mouth’ to linking people. I think this applies strongly to even trying new communication methods. I’ve found this happens interfamily, and professionally.
When I was working in the Library(pre-return to studies) I could see the ‘hardcore’ readers sometimes chomping at the bit waiting for a favourite author’s new book to be published. If they didn’t already know of them, I’d direct them to Author sites, and explain about excerpts, and blogs.
Pari sorry this is a bit fragmented and long…but I think elements of this do apply to what you mentioned.
Just. need. coffee.now.
Catherine,Your comments were just fascinating. I like the generational analysis and buy the basic premise.
The idea of things being more emotive is very interesting. I need to think about that one. It may explain quite a bit.
As to word of mouth. It is and, I think, will remain the single most powerful tool for marketing of any sort. It’s just that the methods to communicate that WOM will change.
I also think gaming software and the whole gaming mentality are going to end up influencing all media in the future. Now, 2 to 3 (or it may even be higher) million people log online at the same time to play some of these games. The programs are highly adaptive. I think the DVD “extras” is not only going to happen, but I think there’s going to be a host of other additions to telling the stories (from links to research articles, locations links, all sorts of “drill down” possibilities where people can explore the world the author created more fully.
And once that leap has happened (which we’re in the process of right now), can it be too far away that storytelling becomes interactive:? There are amazing new technologies in anime and animation. As an indie prodco, we’re buying new software that allows for the use of footage of an area to be used as the base for manipulating that scenery in such a realistic fashion, you won’t know that we didn’t shoot it in a storm, or that those trees weren’t swaying in the breeze. And it’s affordable, (and the same software used on movies like Pirates of the Caribbean.) If we can afford it at this point, how much is going to be available in ten years, to the author? To create their worlds (or have them accessorized) online?
oh, and because I am in awe of this concept as an opening page for an author’s website, (and she’s incredibly nice and talented, too), go see: http://www.lisadaily.com (but there is music, which does add to it, but if you’re at work, be aware the sound is going to pop)
Pari, I don’t hang out on Second Life. I’ve been and I tried flying and the graphics made me nauseous. I’m going to try again, though.
However it does reach millions of people at a time, and when an author is “present” to give a talk and answer questions, it can be broadcast across the whole network, so that people who want to attend can do so. You can reach lots of potential readers that way. There’s no problem with overcrowding, and you don’t have to provide cookies, which is something I guess.
But it would be a sad world if I couldn’t see in person the look of absolute delight on Harley Jane Kozak’s face when she gets frosted animal cookies!
Fully powered up with coffee and sunshine now. I have so much research about this topic spinning around in my head at the moment it’s not always easy to switch gears. lol.
What I was trying to get at with word of mouth, is that it can go beyond its ‘traditional’ application of mentioning a book to someone, but also extend into helping someone adjust to new communication methods to interact with authors or other like minded people. I think the diversity of media applications has capacity to reach niche markets we haven’t even dreamt of…
Wow to Toni’s comment, that is a whole other layer of interaction with the story and author.
Also thanks JD for putting up that transcript. I like thinking that Gin stimulated the creation of Libraries.
What a fascinating discussion!
Catherine, I think you’ve hit an important point about the generational differences. I’m finding a big base of young readers, something that heartens me because I hate the idea of them sitting, playing video games and molting. It’s been so exciting to meet the young readers in addition to the ones my age and older. Finding ways to satisfy all of our markets — real books, ebooks, audiobooks and Second Life is going to be a tricky balance. But a lot of fun!
With props to Sir Arthur C. Clark . . .
We’re barely 65 years into the biggest change in technology since hand-set type on a modified olive-oil press.
Our biggest challenge from here, I believe, will be imagining beyond the remotely believable.
I can’t wait to see The LongPen put to use.