The New York band Finding Fiction
In a recent post I may have been somewhat glib about the traditional marketing tactics deployed by publishers. I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea here. Publishers work incredibly hard to make their books work and their tactics have been, to varying degrees, successful in the past. My point is that they are no longer enough.
The objective of publisher marketing has always been to make the book as discoverable to its market as possible. This has been done by educating, inspiring and occasionally cajoling the book trade to stock, support and sell the book. When done well, this achieves a virtuous circle, bookshops fall in love with and ‘hand-sell’ the product. The bookshop ‘community,’ if you will, adopts the book and takes on the role of telling the story of the story to readers.
Digital changes all of this. It does away with the element of a well-prepared trade. There is no showroom for the customer to hold and sample the book, no bookseller to influence and advise, no context in which to measure the book easily against others. In short publishers have no-one to tell the story of the story to readers.
But we buy fiction in a different way and for reasons that are much more speculative in nature. What if I’m in the mood for, say, a love story? How does Google interrogate my desire further? What context or experience can it apply to help me sate that rather nebulous desire? Most importantly how do I get an authoritative enough recommendation to part me from my cash?
At the moment the answer relies largely on the accuracy of meta-data but if we are to keep breaking new voices into the fiction market then surely we will need to build new and effective recommendation synapses into our new digital environment? Some might argue that these already exist in various online communities but as yet I don’t see much evidence of them penetrating into the mainstream world of the general reader over and above the blunt instrument of Amazon’s suggestions.
Maybe the reading and recommendation of fiction will become a matter of niche online communities or reliance perhaps on already dominant ‘brand name’ authors. But what will this do to our reading culture? Might we find that an activity already beginning to struggle in reaching segments of the population, loses even more relevance.
If you change the supply chain, it’s not just a change of reading format, it’s a change in the way people find and propagate their experience of story. Inevitably publishers will have to adapt but if they don’t do this quickly or adroitly enough, will people simply go someplace else to get their narrative fix?
Publishers don’t just need to master the supply chain of e-publishing, they need to find a new way of connecting that chain to readers. They need to find a new way of telling the story of the story.