Authors and the digital age


Last week I wrote about the idea that books as physical goods was receding. In electronic form, content lacks scarcity and in a free market that means they lack value. The author himself (or herself obviously) is the scarce commodity that drives value. How can an author increase the demand for their story telling services? They have to provide something more than a person can get from a simple copy of a novel’s content; they have to provide a piece of themselves.

Services Marketing

Long before I became a computer nerd, I majored in psychology and then marketing. A couple of things stuck with me from those long hours of essay writing and report compiling. The most pertinent thing is that services must be marketed differently to physical goods. Like many things in marketing, this seems obvious but is often overlooked or misunderstood. A physical good, such as a book, can be displayed, touched, picked up and examined intimately. A physical good can be carried around and shown off, it can become a symbol of prosperity, charm, wealth, fun, love and so on. You don’t think Coke is sold on its ability to quench thirst do you? If it was it would lose out to simple water. Services however are intangible so require a different treatment. Why do people pay $150 a ticket to watch AC/DC perform? Do they get to touch the concert? They can’t even take it home with them. A key point to services marketing is peronalisation and humanising. A service doesn’t have an object that can be held, that people can become comfortable with but it does have a person who delivers it. The author, in many ways, needs to become the product. People feel comfortable with the idea of knowing a person, they get to like people and associate themselves with groups and incorporate them into their own inner place. It’s no coincidence that so many novels have a photo of the author in their back cover. That is one way of putting a face to the story.

Digital Content

If we assume I’m correct in saying services need a human side to be valued, then what can an author do? Most authors are already starting down the correct path but having a web site, a good reads page and a Facebook profile. Those are ways people can get to know the person behind the product, or more importantly the person who is the product. In this way the author has a second identity. They have themselves as private people and themselves as the personality of their work. When a person copies an e-book the thing they can’t copy is the author. That’s all well and good to say, but what difference does it make? The difference is what people pay for. As an author it is so important to add that extra spice that can’t be copied (or at least is difficult). It is the delivery of the complete product that people will shell out money for. Getting the story is only part of it, the rest is extra value derived from interaction with the personality behind the work.

An example

When JK Rowling announced her books would be available in e-book form she didn’t just publish a bunch of books on Amazon, she made a press release saying she was up to something new, something big. What she ended up doing was creating an interactive website that not only allowed you to buy the books but also engage with the Harry Potter world. People could still just make copies of her work, but those who were interested in Harry Potter and Rowling were more likely to hit the site, engage with it, enjoy it and pay for the privilege.

Companion Apps

One way an author can transcend their content is to create what is known as a companion app. A companion app is an interactive addendum to the written word. It provides some additional insight into the world created by the author and allows a customer to gain that extra access that is worthy paying for. The exciting thing about a companion app is that it can be two way. An author can gain insight into their audience, they can discover what excites them and what bores them. This information can feed back into better story telling and better engagement. The only limit on what a companion app can do and contain is the imagination and budget of the author. Imagine having a way to see your favourite author at work as they create a short story. You could see each draft as it goes through revision, how they change sentences around and read their notes as they do so. You might get an interactive map of their world or just discuss your favourite scenes and characters with other fans. Anybody can throw a story together, but it takes that bit extra to really capture people, to really make them want to pay for your work.

Is it easy?

I always feel while I’m writing these sorts of blogs that I’m making it all sound so easy. I prefer to think that it is simple but difficult. You see money is a way to represent your resources. To earn a dollar takes similar effort regardless how you go about doing it. If you write a story and just stick it out there like any one of the thousands of others, you’ll only earn as much as one of those thousands of others (maybe millions of others?). If you can manage the difficult stuff, you’ll get paid more. Brain surgeons get paid a lot because it is difficult, not because they smell nice or have curly hair. Steven King is paid a lot because he does things that are difficult.

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About sjohnhughes

Author, nerd, father, runner and more View all posts by sjohnhughes

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