New Perspectives on Consumer Trends

[This invited talk delivered in 2007 at the Australian Literature Board’s “Publishing the Story of the Future“, Sydney, 17 July. Slides pics coming soon.]

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Due to sensationalist coverage in the media, hopeful digital aesthetes and companies with commercial interests, the discussion around contemporary publishing is often pivoted around notions of digital media superseding print media. Other anti-print notions include the belief that long-form and literary reading is an endangered species. In this talk I hope to allay some fears, quash some misconceptions and reveal opportunities that are emerging. There are areas where print is enjoying resurgence, but this resurgence is based on print working equally with digital media, not in competition.

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It is commonsense that people do not use one medium in isolation, but this understanding is often missing from discussions about digital media. Digital media is ubiquitous, but not autonomous. For those that understand this, the tactical approach has shifted from investigating the nature of digital media, to investigating the nature of integrating all media. Who is using what clusters of media and when, in what combinations, and which approaches address this awareness effectively?

The assumptions I make in this talk is that you’re interested in increasing sales of backlists, increasing awareness of new lists and in making strategic decisions now, based on anticipation of future trends.

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To tackle these goals I could simply reel off a list of best practices for you to mimic. But this is counter-intuitive. I would not serve you by showing you trends that allow you to join, but not stand out from, the crowd.

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A “me-too!” approach also thwarts any chance of strategic foresight since you would not understand the core mindsets informing consumer, practitioner and business decisions. In what follows, therefore, I’ll reveal the core underlying cultural shifts that have taken place, and provide examples of how these core insights have been and can be actioned.

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CONSUMER TREND: “WE WANT CHOICE!”
Consumer trend number 1: “we want choice!”. Consumers are often characterized as being demanding because they want a range of media formats – sometimes to be able to use content on different mediums and sometimes they just the one format they want to use. What does this tell us about the way consumers perceive books?

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CORE INSIGHT: PEOPLE PERCEIVE WORLDS, NOT BOOKS
Core Insight number 1: People Perceive Worlds, Not Books. Let me explain.

The uptake of digital media over the past decade and a half, the increasing range of digital media devices and the subsequent increase of repurposing of content and adaptations across these digital media devices has ripped, quite literary, content from its form. People do not marry a story or message to its medium anymore and at the same time they are acutely aware of the affordances, the unique characteristics, of each medium. People want access to a brand, message or storyworld in the media and arts type they prefer, at the time they prefer it.

For publishers and writers, this means thinking in terms of audience tiers and matching content to those tiers. Like tiered seating, tiers provide a different perspective, a different experience of an event or product. Audiences have particular interests and preferences, which includes particular arts types and media formats. Publishers, therefore, need to be proactive about providing content in different media formats, proactive about making strategic relationships with existing properties in other artforms and initiating transmedia projects. To elaborate, lets move to the action.

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ACTION ON CORE INSIGHT #1: CROSS-MEDIA BUNDLING
As I just mentioned, people are aware of the affordances of each medium. In one medium they can enjoy the sentimental experience of reading dog-eared books, in another utilize the ability to search keywords. People expect a creation to be accessible in multiple media forms. Cross-media bundling provides the same content in different media formats so that consumers can experience it in the medium they desire. It acknowledges real world use.

A novel, for instance, is offered in a bundled package of a print format, digital format for an ebook reader or other device, an audio version and a virtual book version. What bundling does is enable the consumer to access the content in the form they want in the medium they want it. They can read the book on their bed for instance, but also continue reading on an ebook whilst on holiday, or listen to it or read it on their iPod whilst on the train. Now, a lot of these formats are already being by publishers, but not many are bundled together for the one price. Cross-media bundling offers all the content for the one price to consumers. Amazon Upgrade is a step in this direction but as Mike has previously observed, publishers need to be in control of the pricing.

There are also bundling approaches which are not really functional but are exotic for consumers. You can buy books, for instance, inside of the online virtual world Second Life. I was able to buy a book inside Second Life in two formats for one price: a virtual book and a real life book.

And what of leveraging the simultaneous release or cross-marketing of books and films? Why not team up with cinemas and give people the option of buying the book and cinema ticket for one price?

As well as offering the same content in different media formats – to match the needs of a person at a particular time and place – there is also reaching consumers with different artform preferences. This means providing the same core storyworld, message or brand as a book, music CD, TV series and so on. Such approaches can really only be controlled through horizontal integration of corporations, such as we’ve seen with TimeWarner. But we’re also seeing the emergence of publishers being proactive about creatively controlling the different artforms.

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ACTION ON CORE INSIGHT #1: BECOME CROSS-MEDIA PUBLISHING HOUSES
Becoming a cross-media publishing house means you have creative and copyright control over cross-media extensions. This studio-model approach, that Josie Emery of the Literature Board champions, facilitates the creation of well-integrated multi-platform productions. This is an important difference between franchises of the past and these contemporary approaches: the storyworld is not added onto posthumously, but designed from the beginning to be experienced across a range of media platforms.

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An example is the “cross medial publishing house” set up in Amsterdam just over a year ago by the Foreign Media Group. The publications of Foreign Media Books are music CD’s, books, audio books, magazines, feature films, DVD’s, documentaries, games, and CD-ROM’s. The warehouse is home to seven publishing companies, a magazine publisher, music publisher and a licensing and merchandising company. There is also a theater in the basement, where they stage theatre performances, film-viewings and music evenings.

“The publishing vision,” they explain, “anticipates different media products and possible combinations. Foreign Media Group sets itself the target of investing as deeply as possible in creativity and rights and publishing platform independently.”

They claim the process works, as they gushed recently in relation to their property called Afblijven:

“Afblijven is the first cross-media film for youth that includes a combination of film, books, ringtones, dvd, streaming internet footage, mobile game, audio CDs, downloads and weblogs. Cross-media approach works! Due to the cross-media approach, the target group (8-15 year-olds) is in constant contact with the products of Afblijven.”

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Another example is the company BeActive, self-described as a “cross-media production company based on the premise of creating winning successful 360 formats”. In 2003 they launched ‘Sofia’s Diary’ a multi-channel interactive soap opera that includes a TV show, mobisodes, radio show, books, website, mobile games, music CD and video DVD. They are now selling worldwide and have acquired a First Look Agreement with Sony Pictures Television. Their statistics from 2004 reveal they sold 45,000 books in 7 months and so far they have published 12 books.

But you don’t have to become a cross-media publishing house to leverage multi-platform works.

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CONSUMER TREND: TIE-INS & MERCHANDISING SELLS
It is well documented that books which tie-in to an established brand and vice-versa almost guarantees sales. Over the last decade there has been a shift in the status of tie-ins however, in part due to the creatively controlled integrated approaches just mentioned. Books in particular have a new highly compelling status to consumers within this tie-in paradigm. To explain this shift I introduce the notion ‘fictional artefacts’.

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CORE INSIGHT #2: TIE-INS AS FICTIONAL ARTEFACTS
Fictional artefacts are tangible products that have a presence within a fictional world. The drive for the print artefact is an immersive desire that is transcends the desire to read in print, to wanting to hold in your hand that which a fictional character has held in theirs. Fictional artefacts can be imported or exported.

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ACTION ON CORE INSIGHT: EXPORTING FICTIONAL ARTEFACTS
Exported Fictional Artefacts are tangible products, or books, that exist because of a particular fictional world and are then made available in the real world. They are exported out of a fiction. An example.

A character in the American ABC soap, One Life to Live, Marcie Walsh starting writing a novel about her past memories. The Killing Club is a mystery about how a group of friends who wrote how they would murder people didn’t like in a Death Book. The murders actually happen and an investigation ensues. Her book details these events in past. In February 2005, Marcie Walsh launches the book in the TV series and murders start happening in the TV series!

The book was not only launched in the TV series though. It was simultaneously published in real life by Hyperion. The book is credited with two authors: Marcie Walsh, the character (who’s picture is also on the back cover), and Michael Malone, the actual writer. The novel had a one-year build-up in the TV series, 150,000 copies were printed and a reading group has been setup. The book made The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller lists.
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Likewise, a book was published by Hyperion for the ABC television series Lost, is presented as if it was written by one of the passengers who perished in the flight that crashed onto the fictional island. As you can see from the screenshots, the manuscript of the novel is read by the characters on the island, it is also credited on the Hyperion site and on the book cover as being written by the character:

“It is with a mix of pride and sorrow that Hyperion presents Bad Twin, the last novel by a wonderful author who was taken from us in the very prime of his writing life.”

Also, the fictional, supposedly evil company, that exists in the fictional world put out advertisements in the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and Washington Post, denouncing the book. Within 5 days of being published Bad Twin outsold the Da Vinci Code on the Amazon best-sellers list.

The paradigm of exported fictional artefacts reveals that print is attractive if it is presented as an artefact of a constructed world. It is bridge, a portal to the world coming out to people’s lives. Now to the second type of fictional artefact.

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ACTION ON CORE INSIGHT: IMPORTED FICTIONAL ARTEFACTS
Imported Fictional Artefacts are products that exist in the real world that are then placed into the fictional world. An example is the ‘stunt’ that occurred during the second season of the Lost once again. On the 21st of September 2005, a co-writer of the episode, Craig Wright, remarked in an interview published in the Chicago Tribune:

“The Third Policeman will be prominently featured in a key moment” …
[The book] “was chosen for very specifically for a reason.”
“Whoever goes out and buys the book will have a lot more ammunition in their back pocket as they theorize about the show. They will have a lot more to speculate about — and, no small thing, they will have read a really great book.” (Craig Wright in Reardon 2005)

Within two days of this directive, 8,000 copies of the little-known book The Third Policeman by Irish writer Flann O’Brien were sold (Oldenburg 2005). The messages were repeated in different media until the episode, titled Orientation, was finally broadcast on the 5th of Oct in the US, featuring just a glimpse of the book on a bed. Within one month of the first directive in the press, over 15,000 copies of the book were sold, doubling its lifetime sales (Post 2005).

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There have been numerous books alluded to in the Lost TV series and many other TV series. This is an opportunity for publishers to be proactive in working with producers of properties in other media to integrate books from backlists into the fabric of a contemporary storyworld.

What the sales of these books and subsequent reading of them also shows is that people are engaging in long-form and literary reading. What has changed therefore is not the ability to read literary long-form, but the desire or motivation to. In these examples we’ve seen people will read long-form if it persists their experience of a storyworld or brand, and provides them with knowledge that elevates them to a fan.

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CONSUMER TREND: SIMULTANEOUS MEDIA USAGE IS ON THE INCREASE
Our next consumer trend is ‘simultaneous media usage’ or SIMM. Studies conducted in the last few years have shown that people are not just literate in more than one media, but they are multitasking combinations of media. Two key studies have identified ‘simultaneous media usage’ (SIMM) [35] and ‘concurrent media exposure’ (CME).

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The SIMM study, first published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour, describes the phenomenon as:

“individual consumers being exposed to more than one media system or approach at a single point in time. In short, it describes the increasingly prevalent consumer activity of multitasking, eg being online and watching television at the same time, reading the newspaper while listening to the radio, or reading the mail while talking on the telephone.” ([35] p. 286)

The studies have been investigating who uses what range of media types, what combinations of media and which media falls into the background. Advertisers have been the first to utilize these studies to engineer campaigns that surround consumers with marketing messages, to ensure effect. But there are also writers that are creating books with this type of simultaneous usage in mind.

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CORE INSIGHT #3: STORIES ARE SPILLING OVER THE PAGE
Stories are spilling over the page.

Books don’t have to exist as an isolated entity and can be designed for use with other media, in particular the Internet. This is common with educational titles, but is becoming highly relevant to the experience of fiction in a world where readers are transliterate and combining media for effect. Such transmedia books can be designed for cross-media traversal either during a reading session, that is simultaneously, or before or after a reading session, that is sequentially.

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ACTION ON CORE INSIGHT: SIMULTANEOUSLY EXPERIENCED TRANSMEDIA BOOKS
In 1996, Laura Esquivel, the author of Like Water for Chocolate, published a new book: The Law of Love. At particular moments in the novel, the characters drift off, listening to a long remembered tune in their head. The paper turns from text to art, enabling the reader to see what the characters are reminiscing about. The reader can also share the sounds, as Esquivel provides a CD with the arias of their memories. So the reader listens to the music whilst looking at the graphic art. It is such examples and others that signpost ways in which the growing prevalence of simultaneous media usage can be addressed.

ACTION ON CORE INSIGHT: SEQUENTIALLY EXPERIENCE TRANSMEDIA BOOKS
Sequentially experienced novels ask the reader to dip into other media either before or after the book.

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There are many authors that are exploring ways in which other media can augment their print novel. In 2005, Australian Celia Dart-Thornton’s The Well of Tears was published by Pan Macmillan Australia. On the book jacket, Dart-Thornton describes the yearning that drove her multiple medium implementation:

“I wished that I could enable my readers to walk through the detailed landscapes of my fictional world, ‘Tir’, as if those landscapes were real. I wanted readers to be able to take their time exploring, enjoying the scenery, listening to the sounds of wind and water and birdsong, seeing the imaginary places and characters I write about, in an atmosphere that was not scary or violent, but exciting and magical.”

To achieve this vision, Dart-Thornton teamed up with Myst videogame creators Cyan Worlds to create a virtual world to accompany the book. A three-dimensional navigatable forest was created so that the reader can walk through the village represented in the novel and even catch glimpses of characters in the reflection on the lake.

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So too, Australian Max Barry created an online game to augment his book Jennifer Government, published in Australia by Penguin/Abacus.

But then there are extreme examples where other media are integrated into the print story.

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In the US, Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman’s Cathy’s Book by Running Press Kids is an experiment in exploding the book onto the web. Stewart describes the book as a “wild experiment”. The book is presented as if it Cathy’s personal book. In the margins are her scribbles, struck to the inside cover are photos, napkins with phone numbers scrawled on them, and URLs of websites. Each one of the phone numbers can be called and the websites exist. The book made the New York Times best-seller list.

But now lets look even further outside the book to examples, to augment those already presented, of how digital media can be utilized to market books.

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CONSUMER TREND: TRADITIONAL ADVERTISING APPROACHES DON’T WORK
It is widely known that traditional advertising approaches don’t work anymore. The model of reaching masses of consumers through mass media is not an option anymore because there is no mass media anymore. The Internet has also provided an environment where publishers, authors and readers rub shoulders in the same shared space. Marketing is about conversation, as Mike and others have explained. What does this mean for marketing therefore?

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CORE INSIGHT #4: AUTHORS & READERS AS MARKETING TEAMS
For many marketing commentators, consumers have become prosumers (producers and consumers) as well as citizen marketers. The most effective examples of the latter entail a sincere relationship between an author and readership, where they are equal members of a team.

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ACTION ON INSIGHT: LEVERAGING AUTHOR-LEAD READER COMMUNITIES
“Scrap the focus groups, fire the cool chasers, and hire your audience” Alex Wipperfürth

There are many authors who a great job of utilizing digital technologies to mobilize their fans. At Google UnBound, for instance, Seth Godin cited Scott Adams’ success with his Dilbert books. As Godin explained: “So he delivers a book to Harpers, e-mails his list, and it’s the #1 bestseller. […] How long did it take to make it a best seller, one day? No. Seven years. He built an asset.”

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Another great example is Scott Sigler’s efforts for the launch of the print version of his podcast novel Ancestor. He asked all of his fans, through his site and numerous associate sites, to wait and buy his book on the launch date of April 1st. He did this to manipulate the Amazon listing and it worked. Ancestor hit #7 overall on Amazon, #1 on the Amazon SciFi list and held the #1 spot in Horror for three days. All of this, he says, “with zero promotional dollars”.

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Another podiobook author, J.C. Hutchins, has been employing innovative new media marketing approaches for his work 7th Son: he has a presence on many social networking sites such as MySpace, Twitter and LiveJournal, he launched his second book in the online virtual world Second Life and is currently conducting a Skype Book Tour: being interviewed by podcasters from each state in the US. But in particular I wanted to mention his fun integration of citizen marketing into the fabric of his storyworld.

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He has created a fictional character, Natasha, who is head of the Ministry of Propaganda. Natasha issues missions to readers to evangelize the podionovel, such as getting the fans to reach out to non-podcast listeners by asking them to burn CDs to give to people (1 fan did 200 CDs).

There is another pivotal shift that has taken place in advertising.

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CORE INSIGHT #5: “REASON IS OUT, EMOTIONS ARE IN”

“Reason is Out, Emotions are In” is a quote from Timothy, the Vice President/Director of Cultural Discoveries, BBDO Advertising Worldwide. He explains that advertising has undergone a “a reprioritisation of experiential and sensory approaches to consumer marketing over traditional rational and cognitive approaches.” That is, the linear rational approach of providing facts and detail to persuade people to buy has been replaced by campaigns that trigger emotional responses. This means providing experiences, through multiple modes, to alight the senses.

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ACTION ON INSIGHT: BOOK TRAILERS
An example of this is the increasing popularity of video on the web. In particular, book trailers. Liz Dubelman’s VidLit is a successful book trailer company that started in 2004. Her clients include Random House, Time Warner and HarperCollins. The flash videos are funny short clips designed to entertain the reader and facilitate “word of mouse”.

In the first two weeks of the release of the trailer to Yiddish With Dick and Jane, it was seen by a million people and lead to sales of more than 150,000 copies. (source)

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Other examples of video trailers and author interviews are:
• Simon & Schuster’s www.bookvideos.tv
• Harper Collins’ book trailers: www.harpercollins.ca/trailers
• www.bookshorts.com
• www.teachingbooks.net
• www.bookwrapcentral.com
• www.readersentertainment.tv

Part of the success of VidLit, however, is the fact that their videos stand on their own and they don’t do live action renditions of the books – leaving the book text to be the primary mode. Liveaction should be left for interviews with authors, and these videos are perhaps more compelling as a continuation of the experience than introduction.

But let’s have a look at an exotic marketing approach.

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ACTION ON CORE INSIGHT: EXTENDED ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCES

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John Pitts, Marketing Director, Doubleday stated in 2005 that

“If you’re going to look to an industry for innovative and aggressive marketing tactics, it’s definitely those industries [Film & TV] – not the publishing industry”.

Extended entertainment experiences are those that continue the content of a book or TV series or film across multiple mediums, in an immerse narrative-game.

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An example is the “multi-channel marketing” undertaken by Random House for John Twelve Hawks’ The Traveller. They created numerous fictional websites that are part of the storyworld told in the book, sites that had to be traversed by players to discern clues and establish plot. They also had women dressed up as the protagonist in the novel attend BookExpo America.

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More recently, UK author Steven Hall’s Raw Shark Texts was published in Australia through CanonGate. The book has an elaborate website and forum, but there is also an online extension that thrusts the reader into the storyworld. The image you see on the screen is exactly what the protagonist sees at the beginning of the novel. So, the reader listens to the phone message and deciphers clues distributed across flickr, youtube, ebay and other sites. But the experience wasn’t limited to readers. Marketers and booksellers were also targeted, as journalist Rachel Geise explains:

“For several weeks, novelist Steven Hall and his publishers have been playing games with me. First was the request, which arrived by e-mail, to take an online inkblot test (the results indicated a mild case of paranoia — and with what came next, no wonder). Then I received a typewritten letter in the mail with the ominous greeting, “First things first, stay calm.” It was sent to me by me, or at least, according to the signature, “The First Rachel Giese” and I advised myself to consult a Dr. Randle about my memory loss.
A few days later, yet another letter confirmed my membership in something called the Unspace Exploration Committee. That was followed by a message typed on a business card that read, “I need to speak to you,” and a telephone number. When I called, I got a recorded message from Dr. Randle advising me not to read any letters I might receive from myself and warning me not — “under any circumstances” — to read a book called The Raw Shark Texts.”

I spoke with Steven Hall when he was out her for the Sydney Writers Festival recently. And he told me how the majority of the online and print experimentations were his own idea. This is Hall’s debut novel, he was a visual artist. This is important. It is the next ‘transliterate’ writers that are spearheading multi-platform explorations with artistic integrity. They are core to the experience of their original vision.
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Look out for transliterate writers to create for transliterate readers.

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‘One should not be astonished if, with only the means they have now at their disposal, they set themselves to preparing this new art (vaster than the plain art of words) in which, like conductors of an orchestra of unbelievable scope they will have at their disposal the entire world, its noises and its appearances, the thought and language of man, song, dance, all the arts and all the artifices, still more mirages than Morgane could summon up on the hill of Gibel with which to compose the
visible and unfolded book of the future….’

Apollinaire, 1917

Today I believe we have glimpsed the visible and unfolded book of the future. It is a book that stands arm in arm with other media to form a world of possibilities. It is…

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…the Death of the Book but the Birth of the World.

Thankyou.

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