Sunday, March 25, 2007

Future What Ifs

It's easy to fall behind when you're a writer.

I'm behind in my blog, behind in my email, behind in MySpace, behind in my website, and behind in my writing.

The strange thing is, I've been working my tail off.

I'm writing back-to-back novels. Finished the first. Almost finished the second. Then had to stop work on the second to do a semi-major rewrite on the first.

On one hand, I feel this is what I've always wanted to do: write for a living. For the past four years I've felt more like a marketer than a writer, because that's taken up the majority of my time.

But for the past three months, I've been feeling guilty because I haven't been putting in the marketing time.

I haven't been a complete slacker. But I haven't been able to find the harmonious balance between writing and promoting. It's been 95% writing.

I'm not sure that's a wise idea. Because the publishing world is changing.

I've been thinking a lot on this topic. Here are some of the things I've been noticing.

  • More titles being published, but less of each title being sold
  • The price of books rising while other media drops in price
  • Indie bookstores struggling
  • Books getting smaller promotional budgets
  • Chain bookstores losing money, closing locations, reorganizing
  • Bookstores stocking higher quantities of fewer titles
  • The ineffectiveness of advertising to sell books
  • Greater competition for fewer readers
  • The majority of books being sold through non-bookstore outlets
  • Movies, TV, Music, and the Internet taking readers

Now many of these things have been happening for decades. I don't think we're near the end of the print book anytime soon.

But I do think that the future is coming, and profits won't be tied into selling a lot of paper books as much as they've been in the past.

Authors have needed publishers for two things: printing and distribution. These things cost money. Printing, shipping, warehousing, advertising, and marketing isn't free. Neither is paying editors, sales reps, publicists, marketers, etc.

The Internet allows for free copies and distribution. Virtually all costs associated with a book are eliminated. Yet I don't see many publishers, or authors, taking advantage of this, a market where 1 billion people log on daily. In fact, many people are fighting it.

I've had several thousand downloads of my free ebooks, ORIGIN and THE LIST, and several hundred positive comments on them from readers.

I released these books as an experiment, to spread word-of-mouth and encourage free readers to also try my print books.

But maybe I missed the bigger picture.

In this age, information wants to be free. You can search the net and find free songs, movies, shows, and books. This terrifies the music companies, the movie companies, the publishing companies, because people are getting for free what they paid for in the past.

But haven't things always been free?

Since the 1950's, people have gotten TV for free. They've just paid for the device to watch it on.

Prior to that, there was radio.

If the users doesn't pay for these shows, who does?

Consider Google. A billion dollar company. They're a search engine, using software to compile information about websites they didn't create. Where do they get their money?

Writers have long thought that publishers are the only way to make money in this business. But there is another way, that really hasn't been pursued.

What if, in ORIGIN, my characters drank Coke? What if, in THE LIST, my hero drove a sporty new Mazda RX7? What if, at the end of each book, there was a nice full color ad for Alberto VO5? And what if each of these companies gave me a few thousand bucks to do this? What if they also distributed the books for me, reaching more readers than I ever could?

Advertisers pay for TV and radio. Advertisers help pay for movie production with product placement. Advertisers make Google worth a billion dollars.

What if advertisers paid authors for product placement in their books? On author websites?

Or go a step further. What if advertisers hosted websites where people could download text and audiobooks for free?

Instead of making money off of sales, authors would get paid by advertisers.

Now before everyone starts screaming about the purity of the novel, and how it is an expression of the author, not a 300 page commercial, consider that film and TV and newspapers and magazines have been putting out a lot of quality product for many years, being funded by advertising dollars.

Publishers could capitalize on this. What if paperbacks had ads in the back? Would it bother you, as a reader?

Would it bother you less if these paperbacks with advertising only cost $3.99 as opposed to $8.99? Or if you could get a new hardcover Stephen King novel for $10, but all of Steve's characters drank Miller Lite, and on the last page there was a coupon for Handi-Wipes?

What if publishers hosted the websites, paid authors a salary to generate content (novels) and gave the books away for free, generating their income through banner ads and sponsors?

What if there was a subscription based service, like an Ebook of the Month Club?

What if a really great ebook reader gets created, something that is even better to read than paper? Don't laugh---Sony thought CDs would always rule the music biz, until that pesky iPod came around. CD sales have dropped. People are trading music for free. This will happen in the publishing industry as well. Could authors still make money?

There will always be a need for storytellers. But the way storytellers get paid may change

An author's success is based on positive reactions to name recognition. In 2007, that means the author can sell a lot of paper. In 2027, that might mean that author has his face on a box of cereal, with a free book inside.

Peer-to-peer file sharing is done by millions of people. On sites like Kazaa, e-donkey, Limewire, bit torrent, mIRC, and FTP warehouses, people are trading their media.

Think about that. This isn't a distribution network set up by the media, or the advertisers. It's set up by fans. And it's growing.

Yet instead of media companies exploiting this, they try to shut it down. The scream about copyright infringement, and intellectual property.

Shouldn't they be using this somehow?

Shouldn't we?