Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Favorite Topic: Culture Change

I think writing, anthropology and my research into the world of publishing intersected when I realized the importance technology was having on the industry. But my interests aren't necessarily in line with the blogs and articles I've been reading. For that matter, while I enjoyed Frontline's Digital Nation, I found some of the MIT professors' perspectives to be completely ignorant of the teen-and-twenty-somethings' reality. The fact is the world is different than even a decade ago. There isn't any going back, there is just a need to adapt to What Is. And the reality of the present affects the buying patterns of the future.

Technology is changing behavior. Behavior, especially those habits taking root because of the digital environment, influences priorities and the ways in which we relate to the world, each other, etc. What has this to do with writing?

The video game. Who's seen the demo for Heavy Rain? Played & or watched the two Drake adventures? The newest Metal Gear? Assassin's Creed 1 & 2? Sorry people-but here is the true challenge to the book. I can't play these, but the intimacy of the characters and the detail of the plot line is clearly covering the same scope and intensity of a book. It's certainly the closest I've ever seen to the same experience I get when reading--and I just watch, I don't play.

Does this mean that books will be gone? I don't think so. But the mass market idea has to be abandoned. I really believe that all products will find niche markets in the future. That includes books.

"But don't we already have that?" one might ask.
"No," I would reply. We don't.

Book marketing and production operate by the same tact other traditional marketing efforts follow: the more eyes we find, the greater percentage buy. But this is not a model for the discerning shopper. This is not a technique which will work for the individual questing after books they "already know that they like." While that range can be wide, indeed, it is likely informed by a community of readers--check out the Visual Bookshelf of Facebook. Check out video games where characters are named after book characters, or mods for PC Games include making one's Dragon Age look like George R.R. Martin's series. (And they said on Digital Nation that this generation doesn't read. Bah.) Through these methods books are advertised (Consumer to Consumer marketing, but not selling?). I think one has to look to find out, but on the other hand, I think if a "friend" or someone with a similar interest as you suggests something, you're more likely to buy it.

It's all viral, word-of-mouth, niche marketing. We're inundated with messages otherwise. Yes, younger people are more "Wired," and there is more information at our fingertips which makes us more easily distracted--but we must also be discerning. The *shiny* that catches one's eye does so because it is inline with one's interests/identity/community/etc. But it is often one button on the side of the screen, not all five that might appear. Distracted? Yes. But picky nonetheless.

Book buyers will be functioning in such a world. If we want to encourage the reading of fiction, we need to learn how to reach readers where they are. Do people who read books follow the same online habits as the majority of society? Or are we, somehow, distinct? How do you spot a reader in a digital space? What do readers, shopping online, like? is there a higher proportion of e-book sales in one genre as opposed to another? Is gadget awareness or rejection in line with community identity forged in other ways? What readers Tweet? What readers blog? Where, when, how.... do we measure the tendencies of our audiences?

We expect the big publishers to do this, but are they? Effectively? When they toss in their lot with a tablet beloved of the Gen Xers (a relatively small population segment) and the Baby boomers (who are not representative of the industry's future) how can we trust their ability to foster loyalty in the up-and-coming Millenials?

I don't know much, but I know that the audience for my novel will be people within ten to twenty years my own age. I think it most likely that I am writing for readers younger than me. If this is true, then I want to know the publishers can reach that age group as successfully as they have others groups. So all I feel I can do right now is watch and see if the industry can really come to understand what this all means.


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