Direct Marketing

Two or three interesting blog entries in the last 24 hrs on the subject of connecting creative types directly with their audience. The first, from Amanda Palmer, is a stand-making shout out to the effect that she is pioneering a new model, combining her effervescent web presence with paypal to make money that goes directly into her pocket…and almost as quickly into that of her landlord and the woman who owns the grocery store, etc. Because when it comes down to it, creative people need a roof and they need to eat and can’t always wait til the money from CD sales or tours filters through the record company, the management company, etc.

I like AFP’s stance on this and indeed, since I am a Fan, have bought one or two of the items announced on her twitter feed (the LOFNOTC t-shirt, for example, is the ideal garment for its stated purpose, and I would not be seen alone in the house on my computer on any night of the week in anything else). She’s built herself up a fanbase who are into what she does and she’s got every right to benefit from that.

But Ms Palmer, she’s brazen, she’s shameless, she’s realistic and fearless. Not everyone is like that.

Take another example, but from a slightly less affirmative stance. This post by Agent Ribbons describes a heartfelt tale of woe that should not happen to any band. They’re nowhere near the stage of profitting from their income and the tone of their post is sweetly prideful and apologetic for asking fans to help them out of a hole, but there should be no need for apologies. Fans who love their music will find a way to help out, because it’s an investment in the future promise that the band will then be able to make more wonderful music in the future.

Music’s custom made for internet sales. It’s immediate, it’s ubiquitous, it costs nothing to send to people (eg “Everything Pomplamoose Has Ever Made for $9“). It should be easy to directly market to people who know where to go to get it. But what about fiction?

For the last ten years people have been experimenting with delivery methods of short fiction over the internet. They’ve had to because the steady decline of paper magazine sales indicates that at some point it may well be e-zine or nothing. The difficulty has been getting punters to pay realistic (or in fact any!) money for an ezine, and in turn making such venues realistic propositions for professional writers to submit work to. Unlike the music industry I’ve not been aware of much of an attempt by established writers to market their own fiction direct from their own websites. Some have had a “support your struggling author” Paypal button, but anecdotal evidence suggests  that these are ineffective. People will pay money for a product, or for a cause, but not just because there happens to be a Paypal button.

So, that makes this post by Hal Duncan interesting. Like Amanda Palmer, Hal’s got a fan base (and he needs to eat) so I’m hoping (in fact expecting) him to raise the total he requires to release the rest of the story to the public rather quickly. I love Hal’s fiction (and I’m kicking myself for not being able to make the reading at the weekend where this particular tale was unveiled), and if I came across a publication with one of his stories in it I’d buy it, irrespective of the rest of the contents. So, I’ve chucked a few quid – about the price of a magazine – into his Paypal pot in the hope that I get to read the rest of the story soon. Again, I see nothing to apologise for in this context – he’s a creator, I’m a consumer, where’s the shame in conducting a reasonable transaction?

In all of the cases here, we have artists appealling to their fanbase. And since fans tend to be loyal, these attempts at direct marketing, I have no doubt, will pay off to a greater or lesser degree. But this kind of model only works once you have those fans.  For the rest of us, we watch our myspace visitor stats and track plays creep up and scratch our heads at what to do next to garner those few fans into a nucleus.

And the answer to that?

Make better products. Catch a break. Work hard – REALLY hard. Continually. Just like the artists above did. Just like it’s always been.

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