Two Businesses That Don’t Exist, But Should

podcastingI attended the Phoenix Convention last weekend. The con is a literary Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy gathering, which this year included some fascinating panels on micropublishing and ebooks, both easily worth the price of admission alone. I will hopefully do a more detailed post on the con as a whole in the near future, but for now, here are a couple of business ideas that struck me during the panels.

A Federated Media For Podcasting

John Battelle’s Federated Media is a medium sized company which aggregates the eyeballs of several of the worlds most popular blogs (including the highly influential and chaotic Boing Boing), and sells them to advertisers.

Result – blog authors can finance their writing and the growth of their sites, while advertisers get a single point of content to help them target and run campaigns. There’s an instant firewall around editorial decisions – as advertisers have no direct input into blog content; and sites can choose to accept only advertising that accords with their perspective (and *puke* branding). Advertisers get an instant audience (Boing Boing alone gets 3 million uniques a month), cheap.

Why does this not yet exist for podcasting?

While individual podcasts garner listeners at most in the hundreds of thousands (although there are perhaps a few that crest a million uniques) together they represent an growing, economically solvent and highly educated audience. An audience, in the US alone, of over 18 million listeners!

There are organisations like Adam Curry’s ‘Mevio‘ (formerly Podshow Network). These guys throw automated adds into hundreds of small – medium casts, and provide a revenue stream; claiming exclusive rights to content for contract duration in return.

What I’m suggesting here by contrast, is a limited service that would work with top 20 or 100 (independent) podcasts only- dealing with advertisers directly in geographically specific markets (this is how itunes distinguishes its podcast rankings, which largely dictate downloads); and allowing podcast hosts to craft their own discursive in-show adverts, in their own voice – as Leo Laporte does in his enormously popular This Week in Tech podcast. This way, advertisers get known quantity shows with large, established audiences and (internally) consistent content and presentation. While at the same time growing indies can fund production costs and the development of their creative enterprise- via a personal relationship with a single company, who are ‘on their side’. The reality of ‘new media’ is that (especially in audio production, but increasingly in video) a small group working with a tiny budget can create compelling, high production quality content. What they cannot do, is replicate the services of a sales force. Nor should they try, as direct advertiser / editor contact, almost inevitably results in watered down, less appealing creative work (or ‘content’, for you marketdoids).

Marketing on Demand for Authors

Small publishers and independently published authors are increasingly switching to Print On Demand (POD) services for short run (in the low thousands), academic and older titles (slow but steady sellers). Companies like Lightening Source provide a dirt-cheap ‘just in time’ printing facility, with constant improvements in the quality of the finished book. Additionally such POD services facilitate ISBN numbers (which allow bookstores to order and stock a title) and work closely with Amazon to ensure books are available to purchase (and more importantly deliver quickly) online.

These companies also remove the distribution headache, delivering directly to the public and retail, without the necessity of publishers direct involvement. Such services are not perfect. The finished product may not always rival a traditionally printed book (and of course the design is still reliant on the talent of the publisher / author side artist). More importantly POD cannot replace the direct relationships between publisher and retail chain / indie bookshop, which dictate placement of the book at retail, how long a title is stocked, and whether it is for sale at brick and mortar stores at all. Accepting that, they can be an important tool for small publishers who wish to take a risk on a book they could not otherwise have published, or authors who have a pre-existing audience they can sell to directly. I’m thinking of the Wil Wheatons and Amanda Palmers of this world- actors, musicians, and fine artists who maintain a direct relationship with their fan communities, either through blogging, podcasting, convention appearances or what have you. Personalities who may obtain much greater targeted sales dealing with their audiences directly. Here’s an interesting quote from the Wheaton interview linked in the last sentence, on his experiences with his book ‘Dancing Barefoot’..

The publisher insisted on marketing it in a way that did nothing to expand the audience I was already able to reach on my own, and basically blew me off when I repeatedly begged them to change course. I hired a PR firm at great expense, and they did pretty much the same thing. I vowed that I would never again go the “traditional” route with my future books.

So POD is great, but what’s this business that’s missing?

What’s missing is a marketing firm specially tailored to the needs of micropublishers. A company that knows the net, understands how to build an audience, AND can work with traditional media outlets to arrange interviews, reading tours, store promotions and television, radio and new media advertising. This is the one facet of traditional publishing that has not been replicated as a paid service.

With the suicide of the music industry, musicians are abandoning record labels to deal directly with, and sell directly to, their audiences. Probably the two best known examples are Radiohead’s In Rainbows release, and the Nine Inch Nails record Ghosts, which were both released directly online using donation, and fremium models respectively. Both records sold extremely well (in Radiohead’s case, better than their previous three albums).

What’s less well known outside the industry, is that artists are turning to next generation promotion companies like Live Nation, to handle the other important aspects of getting music out there- promotion and touring. These are services that an artist (beyond a certain popularity) cannot themselves handle without a label or label replacement. More importantly, as the perceived value of music recordings drops to zero (as will inevitably happen with books, Kindle or no Kindle), such tours provide the revenue stream that musicians need to keep creating.

Where is the equivalent in publishing? Where are the television and radio adverts for books? Where is the radio talk channel devoted to the enormously popular audio book genre? Who is organising paid and highly publicised public readings? Who is organising and promoting book tours for a set fee or a percentage of profits? Answer- no one. This is a service that could work at a variety of levels, from festival main stage readings by Chuck Palahniuk, to book promotions of unknown but compelling new fiction and non-fiction authors.

Two businesses that should exist, but don’t. Yet.

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