Category Archives: Marketing

This is where my classwork for Online Book Marketing WR 510 for Ooligan Press, Portland State University master program in publishing

Under the Influence of Books Pt.2

If I were probed further on my background as a reader, I’d have to list Kurt Vonnegut. I own several first editions and have re-read several favorites from his catalog.

Positives: he develops a running theme through his novels and essays, one of community, belonging and extended family. In Cat’s Cradle, it was the karass of bokononism, a notion that kindred spirits with a common destiny or vision must be assembled and maintained. In Slapstick, the last President of the United States assigned government-issued middle names. Everyone with the same middle name becomes sort-of related, creating an extended community of man.

One real bummer for me is that his books’ style of delivery changed dramatically from the dense, ponderous columns of Player Piano to the heavily-illustrated, anecdotal Man Without a Country. I really enjoy his middling years and consider his later works a light read. The sheer heaviness conveyed by the earlier books’ design scares me off.

Ironically, I have a photo of the afore-mentioned favorite author Daniel Pinkwater having dinner with Vonnegut. Also they’re both Laurel and Hardy fans.

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Aggregation vs. Filtration Pt.2

Two years ago I was floundering as an online marketer for my sketch comedy group Extra Medium. Every time I posted our library of short films to a site, a new, more hip alternative arose.

I posted to Vimeo, Veoh, Dailymotion, Break, Funnyordie, MySpace, Google Video, Prelinger Archives and even made a little money from Revver‘s click-through ad system which awarded content providers per redirect.

Then YouTube rose from the muck the apparent victor, was bought by Google and cracked down on copyright violations. I had posted a digital video short which featured a snippet of a popular artist’s song and YouTube deleted my account. The hours of tagging, uploading and writing descriptions were void. Instead of blocking one video or asking me to verify my right or to remove the video myself, YouTube lost my 40 videos with thousands of hits. And I haven’t been back since.

Soon, new means of distributing feeds and rich media became mainstream. I launched the same online video as a podcast, subscribable through iTunes, RSS readers and browsers.

I was trying desperately to compete with Portland’s self-proclaimed “best” sketch comedy ensemble The 3rd Floor. They host the region’s best sketch comedy festival, have the best performance space, a long legacy, the most accomplished cast of trained, working actors, great press and great buzz. But not much online video. Web searches for sketch video were much more likely to bring up Olde English, Lonely Island or locals Cinema Queso. I thought I could flood cyberspace with one of the most sought-after commodities, funny video, and come out on top somehow. It turned out to be an awful marketing strategy. It essentially left a paper trail of dirty jokes and pixelated web-dross to my personal online identity. How am I going to explain that to a potential employer? If I’d spent just as much time blogging that Extra Medium were the best sketch comedy collective in Portland, I could have spun that into some real press and buzz. No wonder The 3rd Floor stole my girlfriend.

Too much information means all the while people are collecting more feeds, news, updates and e-letters, the more they ignore, scan and bounce. But legitimate sources of information get qualified hits. Their real estate get the right eyeballs. I liken my video proliferation campaign to flyering telephone poles. It’s throwing fistfulls of pea gravel, hoping you hit something significant. In the meantime, you’ve made a gritty mess and annoyed unintentional targets. What always drove traffic to our sketch show was word-of-mouth, friends-of-friends and being recommended as pick-of-the-week in local weeklies.

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Is “The Wire” a Visual Novel?

I got a comment on my post about the future of publishing from my classmate Brian that when someone asked Jeff Baker, the book editor of The Oregonian what was the best book he’d read in the last ten years, he said HBO’s “The Wire.”

So I did a little bit of research on the show. Created by David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun journalist on the police beat and author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood with Ed Burns, a Baltimore policeman-turned-teacher.

The University of Georgia Peabody Board awarded “The Wire,” calling it “one of the most intense and complex narratives television viewers have seen.” Then I was listening to NPR and heard the tail end of an interview with George Pelecanos, an author of crime fiction, who was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award award for Best Dramatic Series for his work on “The Wire.” Apparently, he is just one of many writers, directors and producers responsible for the flavor of the show. He’d just released The Turnaround, but Terry Gross was hammering him about writing for television and how President Bill Clinton had been seen exiting Air Force One with a copy of one of his books under his arm, and now Barack Obama is a big “Wire” fan and kind-of mad at him for killing off his favorite character.

Pelecanos had some interesting things to say about the shortcuts allowed in television writing. If a character gets up out of his chair, walks to the door and out to the street, you don’t have to write that part. You just write [EXTERIOR, DAY]. It was a sort-of metaconversation on writing. I’m a sucker for that stuff.

Many important events occur off-camera and there is no artificial exposition in the form of voice-over or flashbacks. Thus, the viewer needs to follow every conversation closely in order to understand who’s who and what’s going on. Each season consists of 10-13 full-hour episodes, which form a single narrative. Simon chose this structure with an eye towards long story arcs that draw a viewer in and then result in a more satisfying payoff. Simon uses the metaphor of a visual novel in several interviews, describing each episode as a chapter, and has also commented that this allows a fuller exploration of the show’s themes in time not spent on plot development.

So just how thought-provoking, political and gripping could this television serial be? It’s kind-of hard to stop watching and write. In fact, there’s scarcely a moment over the last two weeks that I haven’t at least been listening to the stories unfold while I’m writing papers and blogs, researching and designing for classes. It’s like a page-turner novel you can’t put down, but which can be absorbed somewhat passively. I say somewhat because the rewards are absent if some degree of concentration isn’t exercised to follow and anticipate the story.

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Fahrenheit 2019

This reminds me of an obscure David Byrne track, In the Future.
“In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very happy.
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very filthy.
In the future everyone but the wealthy will be very healthy.
In the future TV will be so good that the printed word will function as an art form only.”

The more we’ve taken the tactile, ink on paper format away from the book, the more people cry, “foul!” But that’s been sort-of like the oceans receding, leaving amphibians to plod about on their newly-adapted appendages as their gills became vestigial. “Ribbit! I like water better!” So? Get used to it. Land is here to stay.

We were first introduced to the wonders of writing through great storytelling. Our parents read aloud, sang and free-styled weird derivative works from poorly-remembered Grimm’s tales. And it didn’t get any better than that until our own inner voices gave life to the squiggles on wood pulp and characters beautiful and monstrous became the joint invention of authors and our mind’s eye. Then we were exposed to theater, film and television. Much more of the work was done for us, and surprised us.

Again, my favorite author Daniel Pinkwater had something to say about this in either Fishwhistle or Hoboken Days, Chicago Nights, audiobook collections of his numerous NPR All Things Considered essays. He tells the story which became the basis for his young adult novel The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, one about an all-night movie theater with a balcony that played double-features and customers could drop a title in the suggestion box, then see their request on the big screen a few weeks later. One night, Pinkwater sits in on a Laurel & Hardy film. Street people and weirdos, educated-types and beatniks fill the place, laugh in unison until they cry, hug one another and leave before the second feature. Why? Because the first had been too perfect. Pinkwater describes the physical comedy as predictable, but when the hits and falls happened, they still astonished because they were pulled-off so brilliantly.

Thankfully, most adventurous readers have such poignant “aha!” moments with books. The expectations are high, but from time to time a writer delivers a surprise in such a spectacular fashion, it’s jaw-dropping. It’s perfection. I’ve felt that all at once from a good book, sometimes it creeps up and, closing the cover on the last page, notice the perfection.

To compete, books will have to deliver a cultural experience commensurate with the commercial outlay. Writers will have to knock it out of the park with more impressive manuscripts. I think print journalism will shrink, as predicted. If advertisers can’t get consumers to ingest their messages on their home computer screens, we’ll see screens in every public transit depot, airline terminal and eye-level piece of high-traffic real estate. Publishers will produce fewer bestsellers, just as record labels redefined what constitutes platinum and motion picture studios pared back their blockbusters. Periodicals and paperbacks will ebb and flow until the market yields the magic number.

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Under the Influence of Books

One author has shaped my cranium more than any other, and that’s a mixed blessing. Daniel Pinkwater is author and sometimes illustrator of over 100 (and counting) books. He is also an occasional commentator on National Public Radio‘s All Thing Considered and appears regularly on Weekend Edition Saturday, where he reviews kids’ books.

My first exposure to his work was via a children’s television program which read the first few chapters of Lizard Music, the story of a boy left home alone while his parents vacation and his sister roadtrips. He stays up late watching his favorite programs, then awakens to a pirate broadcast of intelligent lizards. Intrigued, he seeks out the source of the broadcast with the help of a homeless street performer, the Chicken Man.

I was hooked. The masterful means Pinkwater employed to make the bizarre adventure an engaging read was wholly new, and remains so. I never felt spoon-fed or pandered-to. Every detail was related matter-of-factly. And the protagonists were neither the average yet repressed ilk of young adult fiction nor the Encyclopedia Brown w√ľnderkinds of middle readers. Pinkwater’s characters have rumpled shirts, acne, braces and are often pudgy outcasts. They’re also risk-takers, befriend dangerous strangers and sneak out of the house late at night.

I kept returning to the children’s section for more Pinkwater. I befriended the children’s librarian, and found I was returning as much to visit her as to get new book recommendations. By age 16, I was publishing my own zines and comics and meeting dangerous strangers through the mail and visiting the children’s librarian at her home because she was my first real crush.

In retrospect, I liken the effect of reading Pinkwater (I’ve read 80 of his books and own 30) to the sense of wonder boys must have felt reading Huckleberry Finn. Surely it inspired interracial kinship and raft rides? The way Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars inspired me to court a children’s librarian 20 years my senior? Whatever; reading Daniel Pinkwater changed my life. Usually for the better.

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Commerce and Culture meet, get along, but no sparks fly

I have been effectively marketed-to by a short list of bands 1) releasing an album early online-only, 2) announcing a prestige packaging / limited edition version of an album available between certain dates in brick & mortar stores or 3) giving fans on their mailing list first ability to purchase live concert tickets online.

In each case, I felt duly incentivized and clicked outside of the email ad to an external site, where I had to register all over again and navigate a checkout process, OR, better, I stepped away from the computer, left my home and bought something using my real phalanges and dirty green wallet-lining.

Each instance demonstrated the same pattern: 1) I would have bought it anyway, the email blast made we aware of its existence, and 2) they advertised things which I’d grown accustomed to purchasing elsewhere and convinced me not to put off the purchase, but compromise and but now. It didn’t feel more convenient. I like record stores and would be visiting one soon anyway. The only campaign that prompted greater revenue was one which convinced me to buy the same album twice, once as pre-release mp3, then months later on vinyl record.

If I translate that to myself as a marketer using online tools, I really need a good email list of people who voluntarily signed up for updates. Such individuals will happily open my can of spam, taste it and not complain that it’s too salty. Then they will need to feel that their relationship with me is exclusive, limited, VIP. Because they feel special, I’ll offer something in short supply, to collect and relish, to strengthen customer loyalty. Then, by strategically releasing my commodity in stages to various tier markets, each segment can feel it was uniquely addressed and supplied.

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