Notes from the marketing underground by Dorothy Grant
One: if you’re going to spend a lot of time staring at the screen and have problems sleeping, check out the f.lux program. After local-time sunset, it red-shifts your color balance, to drop the levels of blue light what disturb melatonin production / contribute to insomnia. Of course, if you’re working on covers, turn it off – but a trial run on my monitor has made a noticeable difference for me.
Two: Marketing exists on a bell curve that runs the opposite direction from engineering.
In Engineering, the very first entrant into a new market has to work hard to crate a demand. The second entrant into a new market can piggyback on the previously created demand, while also iterating their design to be more responsive to the demands of the new market. (See Smashwords’ meatgrinder vs. D2D’s uploading system.) As demand grows, production volume increases, greater cashflow is available for R&D, more innovations are made, and the market splits into offering cutting-edge in lower quantities for a high price and older technology for the mass market at a lower price. (See cell phones, cameras, automobiles, night vision scopes…) The last people into the market benefit from all the prior R&D, and creation of market demand, and focus on making a high volume at slim margin for the cheapest offering, for predictable if thin profit. (See memory sticks, burnable DVDs, t-shirts, most things offered by Walmart.)
In Marketing, the very first entrant into the field with a new marketing innovation makes a killing. When the first half of the bell curve arrives in a rush, they make a respectable profit that leaves them hungry, because it didn’t work as well as the initial outliers. The second half of the bell curve drops off sharply, because as everyone in the field is using the marketing technique, it loses all effectiveness, and drop to breakeven, then a loss. The outliers at the tail end are the last people to hear about and try to catch the wave. Unfortunately, the market is usually sick of this tactic, and thus the last guys run a heavy loss.
For a publishing example, once upon a time, not that long ago, making a book free and having lots of people go download copies from amazon gave a huge rankings boost that carried over when the book’s price was increased (i.e. “put back in [the] paid [listing and rankings.]” There were several website, most notable Pixel of Ink, who made lots of money off Amazon Affiliate links by directing their mailing lists to Amazon for hundreds of thousands of free downloads each week, and reaping the affiliate fee when buyers purchased other things. Amazon changed this practice overnight by 1.) no longer giving affiliate fees to an account if over X% of the downloads are for free items, and 2.) no longer carrying the ranking boost over when an item goes back to paid. If you put a story out there for free these days, you will not make the money that was available in 2009-2010. In fact, you won’t even get visibility for that story.
The next major tactic was “permafree”, or leaving the first book in a series permanently free, as a full-time loss leader. This tactic took a hard hit in July this year, when Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited. Now, a great many of the people who used to download free books to try with only an investment of time before buying anything else from the author are instead trying all the KDP Select books they want to without worrying about the cost. It will survive as a marketing option, especially in other stores like Google Play and itunes, because they don’t have an equivalent subscription program. Yet. But it’s not nearly as lucrative as it was six months ago.
Meanwhile, “bundles” have come into the prime, and the market is rushing to try them. “Author Bundles” is a new name for a very old tactic; they used to be called “anthologies.” The new spin on the old theme is that ebooks don’t have the limitations on the binding or cost to print and ship like paper anthologies do, so they can include full novels and sell the whole thing at ninety-nine cents. (Or ninety-nine pence in the UK stores)
The first few authors to try this made a killing. However, if you go look at the also-boughts for the bundles, you will rapidly realize that what most people buy after buying a .99 bundle is… other .99 bundles. Do they still work? If all authors in the bundle promote it to their fans, they do a good job at cross-pollinating fans. On the other hand, using that reader base to launch the bundle onto the bestseller lists and reap lots of eyeballs is getting harder, and the majority of sales are coming from people who only buy free or heavily discounted books.
A minor note: your fans probably already have your novel. You’re actually selling the bundle less your novel to your fans, on the basis of “I like these people, and if you liked this book, I bet you’ll also like these others.” Anthologies of short stories have the detraction of shorts as opposed to novels, but the attraction of new material; I suspect they’ll hang in there when the bundles are long gone.
What’s the next new thing? If I knew, Peter would be on all the bestseller lists. Meanwhile, I have a few things I want to try. J.L. Curtis, who writes thrillers for people who’ve been there and done that (and for everyone else who wants a thriller that’s scarily plausible and leaves you with “are you sure you didn’t hear this and change the names?”), is trying a new spin on the links at the back of the book. Instead of putting a link to more of his work, he’s putting in links to more books by friends that he thinks the target market would enjoy – including JD Kinman, Larry Correia, Marko Kloos, and Peter Grant. (Thanks, OldNFO!)
How many of you remember the “if you liked this, cut out this page, check off the ones you want, and send it to the publisher with a money order” in the back of the pocket books? How many of you also sent off pocket money with high hopes for the ones the bookstore didn’t have? (How many of you got the lecture from your mother that you weren’t allowed to cut that page out of the library book, even if the library didn’t stock the other ones?) I think it’s brilliant to resurrect that tactic again for cross-marketing, and am looking through the also-boughts, the Amazon Associate “people who clicked through went on to buy” items, and the comments from fans to determine who Peter’s target market really is, and who else they’d really enjoy among the MGC and our other friends that they haven’t yet found.
Some folks are having brilliant success right now with targeted facebook and google adwords ads, while quite a few others have declared them utter wastes of money. If there’s a trick to it, once advertised, that may be the next big thing. I want to get a couple banner ads and try webcomics in a similar vein and strain to Peter’s space opera. I don’t expect it to be lucrative on the first iteration; I expect to learn there’s a lot about creating visual ads that I don’t know.
What do you plan to try?
Dorothy Grant is the marketing half of the marriage; Peter Grant is the one who writes space opera and military scifi with good guys, bad guys, lots of fun, and the absolute minimum of navel-gazing when you could be naval-gazing at starship fleets instead. Check out the first in his Maxwell series, Take The Star Road, for spiffy space opera, or War To The Knife if you like a grittier guerilla war.