Friday, June 17, 2011

The Electric Word.

When I was in my late twenties I worked for a film distribution company. We were a small, local operation that traveled all over the world and presented our humble little film in theaters just like the big boys from Hollywood. The big boys could demand bids from the theater owners for the privilege of showing their work on the big screen. But we had to employ a heavy television advertising campaign together with an absolute guaranteed gate in what become known as a "four-wall," distribution scheme.

Early on during my tenure with that firm I had a casual conversation with a man who had been there in the beginning of it all. He said that historically television was considered the enemy of the movie industry. It didn't take much logic to understand that if folks were home watching TV they were not at the theater paying to watch some film or the other.

But all of that changed when some young men who were all members of the Chamber of Commerce in a medium sized, western US city married the two industries together in a revolutionary experiment. As I was told the story these young men, one of whom was my boss at the film distribution company, were all member of the entertainment committee for the Chamber. And that particular year, way back when, the national convention of Chamber representatives were meeting in that small city.

I am being overtly reluctant to name that city because I simply don't remember well. I want to say it was Salt Lake City, Utah, but I can't be certain of that. In any event I do recall it was a city in the western portion of the country.

One of these guys, again it was my boss, owned a twenty minute pilot clip for a documentary project about Sasquatch which he hoped to extend into a full length feature film someday. Another of them owned a small, local, independent theater. A third member of that entertainment committee was an executive for one of the local TV stations. They determined to show the clip as part of the entertainment for the visiting Chamber guests. But they also determined to open those showings to the public and advertise that showing on the local TV station.

After all, what is the Chamber of Commerce all about if it isn't about free enterprise, local industry and commerce? As the story was told to me the experiment was a resounding success for both the Chamber guests as well as the theater. They charged a nominal admission because they didn't have a full showing of anything but evidently the cars were stacked all the way around the block and one street was ultimately closed by the police because of a traffic jam.

I have no idea if the story is factually true or not, it is just what I was told 30 years ago or more by a movie house booker I worked with at the time. Absolutely factual or not the story goes to the heart of one of my earliest fears when I began to self-publish. That is, how do I maintain control of my publication rights?

By the time I had collaborated to publish Helen:A Psychic Gift, I was intimately aware of computers and how quickly a whole manuscript could be transferred electronically from one machine to the next. Then, with the advent of the Internet the problem became even more acute. I knew that if one person got an electronic copy of any of my work that it could be all over the Internet in a flash and before I could do anything about it.

As it turns out I should be so lucky.

The idea that I should give away all or part of any of my work was as foreign to me as turning over to the public all of the access information to my bank account. I would have argued that it was as stupid as publishing my Social Security number in the local newspaper, or some other similarly outlandish activity. I write as a method of expressing my creative voice. But, I must also live in a world that considers cash the ultimate measure of responsibility and success.

The reasoning goes that if someone is being responsible they have money to prove that. It follows that if someone is responsible with their expenditures and maintains a conservative grip over their personal cash flow that they have money as proof of that reasonable responsibility. So the question is obvious, if I give my work away what incentive does anyone have to give me money for my work?

The answer is as simple as the success of advertising a movie on television. The point in fact is that the Chamber of Commerce experiment I was told about worked because people had an interest in the legend of Sasquatch and in those days there was absolutely nothing that had been produced on that subject. The television commercials said little about the short subject that the one man had produced but what it did was inform the public that something had been produced and where they could go to see it.

Success is success. All advertising is good advertising. If people know about your work they are much more likely to buy it then if they haven't any idea of who in the world you are. As my thinking evolved I realized that while the title Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence certainly helped to sell that book it was really the gossip about that book which gave it a quick shot out of the starting gate. In the interview on Public Radio that I had heard way back in the beginning of that saga, the woman being interviewed said that a radio station announcer had taken up the title of the book and that is what started it all.

It is unimportant if that announcer was mocking the work, or if he was appalled by the irreverence toward nuns which a book that including such an outlandish word like, "lesbian," in the title implied. It was that title and the combination of words in that title that started the chatter which stimulated the curiosity in such a book and delivered to those women such a well deserved success. And that chatter all began with that radio station announcer, whoever he was.

Giving all or part of a title away can and has also stimulated just such chatter. That scenario has repeated itself over and over again and is one of the unanticipated but very successful phenomena of the Internet. Consider the number of people who were unknown until they posted a video to You Tube. Over night millions of people have clicked on their video and as quickly those unknown people have become common, household names not just in the US but world wide.

I have now read numerous stores about individuals who have earned thousands of dollars simply from the advertising associated with people clicking on those videos. I have also read of self-publishing successes that began when someone gave away all or part of a single title they had written as a way of stimulating interest in the rest of their work.

Those were my thoughts when I gave away, without restriction a PDF copy of a book I authored and titled The Proggy. I gave it away but I also asked my patrons to buy a copy of my work. I have no idea how many people actually downloaded a copy of that book but I can tell you that no one bought a copy.

That is not exactly true. A friend of mine bought a copy upon my urging so that I could test the on line check-out engine to insure that it was working properly. That same friend is the person who bought the very first copy of my latest book, The Interstellar Incident, in an electronic format for his Kindle. Thanks MA for all the support.

As I close this blog entry I must harken back to my very early days near the University of Oregon Campus in Eugene, Oregon. I recall a young man who by all appearances was a street person. He was also a writer and he had written a novel.

Like all of us in those days he had no outlet to publish his work so he determined to self-publish in a very unique way. He had typed out his novel on 8.5 by 11 inch sheets of paper and then taken them to the university library where anyone could copy anything on the public copy machines for a nickle a copy.

With a couple of dozen pages of his novel in hand he stood out among the changing class throng and attempted to sell a single page of his novel for a dime. That represented a 100% mark-up over his cost base. Both my sister and I actually bought a few pages of his book. We are both artists and we will support other struggling artists if given the chance. A dime was just within my budgetary considerations in those days, and today too for that matter.

The problem with his marketing scheme was continuity. The pages she bought and the couple I bought were far and away removed from each other. He copied and sold a different page of his novel each day so unless you had been there from the beginning and had purchased a page everyday there was no way to keep up with the story line.

Nonetheless I must pat that young man on the back. I sure wished I knew who he was or where he is today. The lesson he taught me which I have not forgotten is never turn your back on a marketing or distribution idea. If giving the first half of the work away will cause someone to buy the second half of the book, then wonderful. If selling one page of the novel for a dime will cause someone to be sufficiently interested in what you have created to want to buy the whole novel then you have accomplished what you needed to accomplish in order to get someone to read your work.

Ultimately that is the goal of a writer and self-publisher with or without the cash up front.

Next: OK, you won't buy it? Here, have it for free then!