A Lesson from Estonia
I was intrigued to read an article in the Economist about independent musicians and groups in Estonia. Here are a few excerpts.
ON A recent day, Helen Sildna was sifting through applications, looking at products, business plans and strategies for market expansion. This may be business as usual for investment managers, but the applicants were artists, not companies. Ms Sildna, the founder and chief executive of Tallinn Music Week, is convinced that musical acts need to operate like start-ups, attracting investors and creating business plans.
. . .
During the one-week festival, which takes place in March and April each year, bands and solo artists perform (free of charge), exchange ideas with each other—and hone their business skills by negotiating with promoters, investors and other potential partners. The festival is essentially a boot camp for musical start-ups. “The artists know that you have to take financial risk,” Ms Sildna says. They have to learn to “find investments and develop efficient teams containing all sorts of expertise from finance to digital media and marketing.”
For the previous Tallinn Music Week Ms Sildna received around 1,000 applications, of which 250—representing 35 countries—were selected. The application round for 2017 runs until the end of November. “It’s easier to start on your own because you’re in charge of your own career,” says Andres Kõpper, an Estonian electro-pop artist performing under the name NOËP. “In Estonia that’s the way artists work now. You don’t stand around waiting for a magic hand to help you.” Mr Kõpper signed a record contract with Sony, after they discovered his music on Spotify. The young artist had, in essence, already done the heavy lifting by building his own audience.
. . .
Waiting to be signed by a major label may no longer be a good idea for artists anywhere. According to a recent survey by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the key 13-to-25 demographic only buys 14% of all CDs sold, while music lovers aged 36 and over buy 58%. The younger demographic accounts for 41% of all music ripping and downloading, while the much larger 36-and-over group only accounts for 40% of that activity. Ms Sildna argues that music fans’ changing buying habits have created more opportunities for enterprising artists. “Today investment and competent teams can be found in innovative formats. There is no such thing as the classic music industry route anymore.”
There’s more at the link. Recommended reading.
I think this is very applicable to our industry – writing and publishing. Of course, we don’t necessarily have to use a publisher at all, just as a music group today doesn’t have to go with an outside producer or distributor. They can do over the Web almost everything that used to be done by music companies, and they can hire professional studios to record their own work (or build their own in the garage or basement of one of their homes, just as we set up our offices – “writing studios” – in our own homes).
However, one aspect I haven’t seen among independent authors is a concentrated effort to market ourselves in conjunction with each other. I haven’t seen an indie “boot camp” along the lines of the Tallinn Music Week. Sure, there’s a certain amount of mingling and discussion at sci-fi conventions and the like, but that’s not the same thing. Should we be trying to set up a more professional, more sales-focused event like that? Would it work for publishing books as well as songs? I don’t know. Tell us your thoughts in a comment, and join the discussion.
I think we should be looking closely at how other areas of the entertainment industry – which, after all, includes books) – are marketing themselves and their artists. If we don’t, they’ll eat our lunch, because the average consumer has only so many dollars (or whatever) to spend on entertainment every month. Those dollars can buy a movie ticket, or a DVD, or music, or a book, or a video game, or anything else that entertains. Our books are just one of many possible purchases. We need to figure out how to make them – and their authors – more attractive to potential consumers.
I was particularly taken by this excerpt from the Economist’s article.
Mr Kõpper signed a record contract with Sony, after they discovered his music on Spotify. The young artist had, in essence, already done the heavy lifting by building his own audience.
That’s exactly how I ended up publishing my most recent book with Castalia House (which is selling very nicely, thank you), and why I’m now under contract with them for several more; and it’s how my friend Lawdog recently parlayed his blog readership and wide network of followers into a publishing contract for two books. Our experience has been identical to Mr. Kõpper’s. If you bring to the table, as an independent artist or author, an established readership, guaranteed to buy your books, in sufficient numbers that the proposition will be profitable for a publisher as well as yourself, you have a lot that will interest them. I think that’s the way most authors are going to ‘make it’ in the more traditional aspects of publishing in future (assuming, of course, that traditional publishers learn to adapt to the market of today, and don’t go the way of the dinosaur). The more we can put on the table, the more the other side is likely to put on the table in return. Both sides have to win – and if we do well as indies, we hold a winning hand.
We’re in a business, whether we like it or not. Art is for the birds.