Monday, July 31, 2006

Submission or Distribution? - the long tail tale

I wrote this as a reply to playsandplaywrights, in response to a post about finding actors through Craigslist that talked about on line resources for playwriting generally:

This is a topic I'm VERY much interested in!
I've reconciled myself to the idea that my plays just do not appeal to most audiences or to the gatekeepers at most theatres. But there 300 million people in this country, 6-7 billion on the planet. There are a few people do love my work-- I get a fan email at least once a week from some one who has read some play(s) of mine on my webpage and wants to thank me for my writing. For the last decade I've been trying to figure out how to skip the gatekeepers of the (very expense indeed, in time as well as money) submission process and bring my work to the attention of people who might read and perform it. I have a huge website, well ranked by Google. This week my husband and I made podcasts of a couple of my monologues and posted them to Google and PodOmatic. The Internet and other recent telecommunication technology has made it possible to do such things: the problem is to figure what to do and out how to do it effectively. Yesterday Jeff Jarvis laid out a model for "long tail" publication of niche marketable books on his blog Buzzmachine which I'm going to quote below. Read it, please, and consider:
Can playwrights come up with a similar model for the distribution of scripts?
Books require storage, and it quickly becomes impractical for publishers to keep low numbers of thousands of titles in their warehouses. “The costs associated with printing small quantities of many different titles and of warehousing those many different titles and of fulfilling single-copy orders . . . are so onerous that it’s not a model that I feel works for publishing today,” said Terry Adams, the director of trade paperbacks at Little, Brown. Susan Moldow, the executive vice president and publisher of Scribner, agreed. “It only works if you’re employing some kind of print-on-demand,” she said, referring to a technology that allows publishers to print a few books at a time, as they are ordered.
Well, let me suggest a model, learning from both Amazon and eBay, where instant gratification costs more but patience pays off (which is also proven by So:

* Charge the most for immediate delivery, which is enabled because you either stock some number of books in inventory or use more expensive print-on-demand. This is the equivalent of eBay’s ‘buy it now!’ and of Amazon’s overnight shipping. Let’s say that costs the reader $25.

* Charge less if the reader is willing to wait ...... Charge less again if the reader is willing to take the book as a PDF and read it in that mangled, inconvenient form or go to the expense of printing it themselves. Let’s say that costs the reader $15.

* Charge less again if the reader just wants access to read the book online — a subscription, in essence. Let’s say that costs the reader $10. There is also a growing market in book rentals. My father uses a Netflix for books called BooksFree. What if the publishers starting running such a service themselves, creating a subscription market for books in print or online. So rebuild the old book club business by selling subscriptions to authors, topics, bestsellers, and so on: Pay a flat monthly rate to read as much as you want! Or pay $100 for a lifetime subscription to Anne Tyler. You now have an annuity and pay-in-advance customers.

* And if you want to get fancy... books on the bookstore shelves become retail samples and you don’t have to take the inventory risk and cost to fully stock those shelves. And the bookstores can stock more sample books, selling more titles. The tail grows.

* Get yet fancier and involve your long-tail partners — search engines and blogs — in your sales with affiliate deals that — shhhhh, don’t tell anyone — cut out the current retailing middlemen and give you higher margins.

* Now let’s get crazy and follow the model: Pay for a book that you wish someone would write. If enough people anty up and pledge to pay, say, $10 each, I’ll write my Dell Hell book (or perhaps some would pay me not to write it) or the Dummies guys would commission Dell Returns for Dummies only if they saw sufficient demand.

Why am I giving away this advice for free? Well, I was thinking about writing a book about this and the necessary upheaval in the book business as a poster child for the explosion of media. But my agent warned me, quite rightly that someone else is pitching a book about books. Well, with very roughly 100,000 new books a year in the U.S. and 200,000 in English, that should be no surprise. This is the long tail, damnit. There can and should be four different books with different viewpoints. But this is the way the book business works. This is how they do, indeed, think. And that is one of a hundred reasons why it seems to take a hundred years to publish one of the little suckers, only to live on a shelf in relative obscurity for four weeks before hitting the remainder tables and then the used-book store and then complete obscurity forever. So maybe I’ll just write it as an online manifesto and screed (or maybe you’ll pay me not to).

It doesn’t have to be that way anymore. The internet is not the enemy of books, authors, publishers, and ideas. The internet is your friend, damnit. As with other media, these guys think shrinkage when they see these new challenges because it affects their old business. They should be thinking expansion: what opportunities are created for new business. END QUOTE

How can we "think expansion"? I don't need to be on Broadway to be a happy playwright. A production on an aircraft carrier at sea or in the Bangladeshi School of the Arts will be just fine, thank you.


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