Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Archon31 - The Editor and Agent Panel

There were several ways I could go with this blog - my first thought had been to combine thoughts from this panel with at least two other presentations I've been to over the last few years. But I've decided that longer discourse needs to wait for a different blog. I am adding my own thinking about some of these topics - things that either went through my head during the panel discussion or insight about the issue that has surfaced in my brain as I've had a few days to mull over these issues.

Several things have remained in my mind from hearing this panel. For one thing, there was a lot of talk about reading patterns of the generation coming up behind the "boomers"- Generation y:

They seem to be reading more than ever - but not books - instead they read blogs, online fan fiction, games.
They tend to create their own entertainment
They are bypassing the commercial print entertainment

This makes it difficult to find a format to get materials out there in a way that can make a profit - A major issue is that so much of the content online is free. As the internet becomes a place for reading, people begin to believe there is no reason to pay to read fiction. Apparently there are people who believe that every work of fiction should be available online for free.

Think about the music industry - Napster broke new ground when it allowed people to share music - and in the process avoid paying for it. Fortunately for the music industry that was shut down. For listeners the IPOD and the Itunes Store has made it possible to obtain many classic pieces of music - and provide some revenue for the musicians.

But then think about newspapers. Several years back I discontinued all newspaper subscriptions - I was tired of all the physical paper that was coming into my house. I did not want to throw them away - I wanted to recycle. But we live in an area (out in the country) where we don't have curb side recycling. So newspapers just stacked up until I got around to loading them in my car and driving 10 miles (or more) to find a place that would accept them for recycling. I have found that almost any paper I want to read has an online version. But think about this from a profit making point of view. Almost all of these newspapers are free when you are reading current news. Some of them have a fee to read archived information. But think about the economics of newspaper publishing. Subcriptions have never paid the cost of publishing a newspaper - advertising has always been the dominant source of revenue. And yes, people are still buying newspapers. But . . . more and more people are reading their news online. And the online versions of the papers have only a few ads on each page. One of the online papers I read occasionally has annoying ads that flutter and float along the page, obscuring the article I'm trying to read. Now do I remember what products were in those ads . . . no. And apparently, newspapers are increasingly being bought up by big nationwide companies. Could we see a day when you buy an Austin paper and see NO local news - all national news that is being printed in all the papers everywhere? I have a hard time picturing that because I go to the Austin paper to read about Austin news, the Hutto paper to read local Hutto news. But if the economics changes . . . who is going to pay the writers to write the news and opinion pieces. And even scarier will our sources for news become so limited that we no longer get to see the different view points on current issues?

As far as books - there are many issues driving book sales - the vast majority of books sold are sold at Walmart, Sam's Club, Target, etc. Shelf life there is SHORT. While I really enjoy going into Barnes & Nobles and Borders, they can keep an inventory of more books at a cheaper wholesale cost than can a small local bookseller. And there are fewer chain book stores in the malls today for those impulsive book buyers. Think about this: most stores sold Harry Potter with a very slim profit margin - hoping that the additional purchases people made would be their profit makers. They were also hoping you would buy it from them rather than one of the discount stores. And the success of Harry Potter is amazing - but is it a new trend or a "dying gasp"?

And then there was a lot of discussion about the difference between Proctor and Gamble marketing soap and the selling of books. Think branding here. Think how much effort goes into making you choose one shampoo or detergent from another. And if you really like the product you're going to buy it again. But trying to market books like you market soap is NOT going to work. Think about it . . . You don't buy a book because it is published by Tor, Baen books or DAW (Although BAEN and DAW have successfully mained their brand image for loyal science fiction and fantasy readers.) You buy a book because you've read the author's work before, the cover art attracts your attention, or the title catches your eye. Each author is really a "brand." Think how many authors are represented in one book store alone. To go back to the soap analogy. Soap sellers sell four or five diferent kinds of soap every week, year end and year out. Publishers are selling 10 new and different brands each and every month! It is a new brand for each author, sometimes even for each book. I guess you could say that with series books the series itself is a brand. Another analogy - cherrios - simple decision - regular or honey nut. You can see for book selling it is a much more complicated equation. And if a big comglomerate publisher gets a new MBA marketing manager who was trained in marketing consumer items . . . .

Back to Generation Y:
The good news is that young people are reading more than ever, the bad news is that they are not necessarily reading books. My first thought when thinking about my children is that I raised one reader and one non reader. But then I thought again, my son does not devour books like his sister, however, he reads news articles avidly on the internet. He is well versed on current events, current politics, and business news.
Another interesting thing, there were two diferent view points on how generation y tackes a reading project. One study seemed to indicate that they don't read books linearly - from front to back. Rather they talk to their friends and read the favorite passages. It is a little like how most of us read a magazine - we pick out the articles we are interested in and read them in the order of our interest rather than from cover to cover. However, another study indicated that this same group of people will rent the DVD's of television series and watch the episodes in chronological order back to back. One implication of this iks that they may not be as interested in series fiction until all the series is completed. Since book publishers base their acquisition of books upon the number of books the first book in a series sells . . . you can see the contradiction or conflict here for marketing books. RIght now we don't have the things in place to put out a ten book series all at once so that pattern can transfer. I do read a lot of series fiction. It takes a year to two years between books. My memory is such that I have to go back and reread previous books to get back into the story line.
A young person in Generation Y seems to have up to five other intimate friends. They may rather read something written by one of their friends than go out and back the best novel out this week.

This panel definitely gave us different perspectives of good news/bad news. Some were optimistic, believing that publishing will find new ways to take advantage of these changing trends. Others were pessimistic, because the changes in technology and some social structures will impact how books and other intellectual material reach their audience.

Thought provoking panel . . . don't your think?

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