When Content is Everywhere, Marketing is Queen

Checkmate By Marco Vossen
Checkmate By Marco Vossen

I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation. As I said before in my post – Some Things That Need to be Said – I am spending so much time on things that are not writing.

Amanda Hocking

In the midst of the latest round of nonsensical, zero-sum posturing in the worthless debate about traditional vs. self-publishing, Amanda Hocking has been refreshingly pragmatic about her impressive success doing the latter while refusing to demonize the former. If you haven’t read her post, Some Things That Need to be Said, I demand you go do so now!

I noted back in late 2009 that, “The current discussions about the viability of publishers and publishing are primarily being driven by digital ideologues with self-serving agendas,” and not much has changed since then as most of the discussions miss the real point: leveling the playing field for distribution does not level the playing field for discoverability.

If you publish it, will anybody know? Or care?

The success a lot of unknown authors are finding via self-publishing today is not unlike the early days of blogging, when it was easier to stand out and go viral because the signal:noise ratio wasn’t completely out of whack like it is today. Some of those bloggers parlayed their success into platforms that went toe-to-toe with the established media brands who were slower to react to the digital transition, while others went to work for those brands to help them establish a strong digital presence of their own. The vast majority, though, simply faded away, as noted in a 2008 survey by Technorati that found “95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.”

Right now, the relative ease of digital publishing — not yet the equivalent of blogging, but getting closer every week — and the exceptional successes of a relative handful of authors masks the larger challenges ahead for authors and publishers alike, regardless of their business model: discoverability.

As ebooks grow in popularity and more and more of them are published made available for sale every day, how will readers navigate the deluge and discover the ones they’ll really enjoy and want to share with others? Bookstores? Reviews? Bestseller lists? Social recommendations? Benevolent unicorns bearing magical devices?

Seth Godin’s newest initiative, The Domino Project, has garnered a lot of attention, more so for its savvy marketing than the content it’s produced, so far limited to a warmed-over remix of Tribes that’s only available to customers willing to shop with Amazon (so much for maximizing spreadability!), and a couple of freebie downloads. First announced last November, there’s been no word of any other authors joining his Project, so it will be interesting to watch if it ever becomes more than the latest episode of Godin’s ongoing, over-the-top self-promotional agenda.

Hocking’s comment, “being me is a full time corporation,” is an important one because it’s a critical reminder that, no matter how you go about it, publishing is a business, and writing the book is only one part of it.

Uploading that book to your preferred digital platform(s) is another part, and arguably the easiest aspect that’s barely worth even talking about anymore. Ensuring anyone knows that book exists, though, is the tricky part for which there is no magic bullet, no easy button, and no level playing field.

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3 thoughts on “When Content is Everywhere, Marketing is Queen

  1. Great post, Guy. Makes me think about the bloggers who did endure and who did find their market, people like Josh Marshall. He did it by focusing on content instead of being the shiny object, and he changed the game instead of simply playing it.

    1. Yeah, TPM is a great example. Interestingly, the majority of breakout blogs the past few years have focused either on aggregation or light entertainment, nothing really substantial like those of the first wave. Nikki Finke, of course, is a notable exception.

  2. Great post, Guy.

    It’s not what authors want to hear, and you can be sure they won’t. But as my friend Caroline once said: “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

    Last year I enjoyed Lane Smith’s kids book “It’s a Book” but think now it should have included:

    Q: “Can you make much money writing & publishing one?”

    A: “Not very often. IT’S A BOOK!”

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