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Glastonbury and discoverability
My husband has been watching lots of the videos from the Glastonbury festival over the last couple of days. There have been some great performances, and lots of online chatter about many of them. But it really struck me how many of the groups that you heard about everywhere were all old. Foo Fighters, Guns 'n' Roses, Elton John, Rick Astley... I could go on.
These are all stars who made their names in the era when the record companies controlled the music industry. When you needed a record deal to be featured on the radio, or in the record shops. When getting a record deal was your ticket to stardom. When the music execs could control what people listened to and feed us what they thought we wanted.
But now, with the plethora of streaming services and social media and everything else, the audience is fragmented. And, if you're good enough and lucky, you can be found well before you get a record contract. I am not the only, or even the first, talking about this. Kristine Rusch says it much more eloquently and in depth than me.
It always struck me as funny a few years ago, how there was a cachet in listening to unsigned bands, that there never has been in (book) publishing. Self publishing was considered low quality and all the people who couldn't get a publishing contract. While unsigned artists were up and coming.
Nowadays, self-publishing is not (always) seen as such a negative thing. In fact, it can often be hard to tell the difference between traditionally published books and self-published ones. The drive to do everything faster and more efficiently means more trad books have errors in them, and many self-publishers are more professional than ever.
As a side note, for the last couple of years I've taken part in a summer reading challenge which requires the books to be indie. And every year there are multiple discussions about which books count and how to tell. It is complicated, especially with all the trad imprints.
The consequence of this fragmentation of the market, is that there aren't the superstars. The books that everyone reads, or the music that everyone listens to, is a thing of the past. No one band, or author, controls the cultural zeitgeist.
But this isn't a sign that the market as a whole has diminished. I don't think it has. In fact, the last numbers I saw suggested that more people than ever were reading, and reading more than previously. I'm sure corona had an impact on that, which might easilly have declined since.
As an author, the thing I'm taking away from this is that the goal isn't to become the next J K Rowling. That's an old paradigm, which doesn't exist. I mean, I wouldn't complain if everyone in the world knew about my books, but that is increasingly unrealistic. What I want is everyone in my niche to know about my books. I don't care about the wider public, as they are unlikely to read my books as they prefer other types of fiction and aren't my readers.
Both publishing and music are now industries where consumers have the power to find what interests them and then algorithms try to feed them more of the same. It's not about the B2B selling, where the publisher/record company persuade the book/record shops to stock whatever new title they have, and then trust that the public will buy it as it is there and new. It's B2C, where the artists can provide their wares directly to the consumer for them to judge.
Getting a publishing, or record, contract was never easy. Now that barrier has gone, but now the obstacle to overcome is discoverability. How do you get the right readers, or listeners, to know about you? To find the people who are willing to take a chance on a new book/record? Those who will be your future fans?
This is the biggest challenge in these two industries right now, and the future of advertising is wide open. New, innovative methods will develop and transform the landscape. Will it be NFTs? What about Tiktok shopping? More crowdfunding? Subscriptions? What else is there coming that none of us have even thought of yet? How can we balance the fear of the unknown with the desire to do something different?
There are no right answers yet, but this is a phenomenen to watch. And, as a self-published author and consumer of books and music, I am on both sides of the fence.
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Find out more about my fiction at clarissagosling.com