Haven’t decided whether I’ll be verbose or brief on this subject, here, today. Have to look back and see, I guess.
Conversation threads this morning on Twitter (which I can’t retrieve, on account of Twitter is “stressing out” – and I don’t feel like trying to track everything down with tweetscan/summize), included one creator saying they were thinking of planning on releasing a project they’re working on … in September or October. To which my mind replied: “I don’t understand. If you have a releasable product, why not put it out there as soon as it’s ready? For a finished product, why wait?”
Now, I can see how with certain products – say, a dancing Santa Claus doll or a new line of Valentine’s Day candies – releasing at a particular time of year might be appropriate. And I can see how products which will only be relevant for a limited time should be released in a specific time period – though that’s now, not later – to avoid irrelevance.
I can even see where something like a blockbuster movie, trying to maximize attention and profits would want to schedule its release to not be the same weekend as a directly competing release, which would not only compete for viewers dollars but for the actual, finite number of screens, but — and this is a big but — I can’t see why a studio would hold off on releasing a movie for months or, as actually happens more often than you’d think, years after it was ready to be shown. The finite number of screens is (I believe) now well over 30,000 in the US alone, and even the widest of releases hasn’t topped 1/3 of those – there’s a LOT of screens, if you have a movie ready to go, put it out there! If you don’t think it’ll make “enough” money in theatres, throw it to DVD – as long as you keep it in print, it’ll be available to whoever wants it. As long as it’s sitting “in the can”, unreleased, it’s not making anyone any money, it’s not entertaining anyone, it’s not communicating anything, it’s wasted.
Which, I think, is part of my problem with the whole thing: Someone, possibly a lot of someones, put their hard work and creative energy and ideas into creating something, and that work, that creation, is being held back, hidden, kept from its audience.
The only response I got to my query on Twitter gave a few possibilities. Responding to a competitor, because it could hurt sales of a past product… but the number one response, and the one I see most often relating to this subject, generally is: To get good press.
And based on my research, the press wants your finished product and your press release months in advance of the product’s launch. A three month lead time – for everything except daily newspapers – is the barest minimum. Monthly magazines are effectively finalized three months before they hit newsstands, so they need even more lead time. From what I’ve read, if you give them several months’ advance notice that you’re going to do so, daily newspapers only need weeks prior to a product’s launch to cover it. And since that’s what the press asks for, that’s what the press gets, AND that’s what companies have become used to giving them. So… the standard is that -if you want ‘good’ press- you have to have your product finished and ready for market a quarter or half a year before you want to release it. The lead time in publishing, between an author turning in a complete manuscript and the book hitting store shelves seems to be one to two years, leaning toward two years, and the book is effectively done for most of a year of that. WTF? Seriously?
I can upload a file to my printer today and -if I wanted to pay for expedited shipping- have finished, salable books in hand this time next week. (Possibly within a week, depending.) Amazon goes a little slower, so another week or two to have a complete page on Amazon (though if I wanted to be a Marketplace Seller, I could probably get the product up by the time the printer got it to me), but usually a couple fewer days than Amazon to hit other online booksellers like B&N, ABEBooks, Powell’s, et cetera. I had set myself an arbitrary goal of having the book of short stories I’m working on finished in “May 2008” and had been thinking of trying to churn away at it all week to have the finished book to the printer by the end of the month – if I did that, it would be 100% as available as every other book I’ve ever written by mid-June at the latest, and right now it’s just a virtual stack of rough drafts. Except, apparently, if I did that, no reputable publication would ever, EVER, review the book, because I didn’t send them a “galley” to read 3-6 months in advance of publication. WTF? The book will be available, “in print”, indefinitely. Forever. It’s not a limited-time release. It doesn’t stop being a book worth reading because it’s already out, or because it’s been out a year or two years or ten years. It doesn’t actually stop being something worth reviewing the moment it becomes available to the public.
Yes, I know new books are coming out all the time – but that’s a separate issue. The fact that something in the neighborhood of 100,000 new books were published last year in the English language is … wow. Amazing, ridiculous, fantastic, encouraging, inspiring, et cetera. Impossible for any one person, really even any team of people, to keep up with. A publication dedicated entirely to reviewing books, a daily publication, an internet publication, a blog, even, with new reviews going up all the time … well, maybe a blog or wiki with thousands of reviewers working together to thoroughly cover every release could, but … it would be difficult, if not impossible, to review every book. A normal publication, in the face of this, must decide how it will choose which books to review – that is a simple fact. The idea that they’ve all decided that rule #1 is to ignore all books already in print is … arbitrary at best, but also ignorant and highly irrational. What about the thousand-plus books that were released each week that they never even heard about? If only a tiny portion of those were worth review, but came to the reviewers’ attention too late, too bad, eh? What a terrible criteria.
I’ve gone on a tangent, have I? Fine. To sum up: The “good reason” to put off product releases is to get “good press” — because the press generally refuses to cover anything they don’t get access to before everyone else. My response: This is a practice based in the limitations of the past, on false scarcity and a lack of persistence -not just of products, but of vision-, which in the face of previously unheard-of levels of production (ie: 100k new books a year) and availability (ie: print on demand means nothing ever needs to go out of print), needs a massive overhaul.
The wrapping up of which brings me around to the second concept I wanted to address in this post, which I will try to do somewhat more succinctly: I think that what people want is more content, more products; I don’t think that what people want is more marketing.
My basic, foundational, concept for what I plan to do with Modern Evil Press and wretched creature as I go forward, is based on this idea. I’m going to paint as many paintings as I have ideas for, and make them available online for sale as soon as I can get a photograph of them taken – usually as soon as the paint is dry. I’m going to write as much fiction as I have time for (I’ll likely never run out of ideas – I have hundreds of them, filling notebooks and file folders, usually a book’s worth of ideas per page), and put it out as quickly as possible – probably within a few weeks of getting first drafts I’m happy with. I’m going to let people know what new things are available through whatever channels I have available (twitter, mailing list, shouting from street corners (did I mention I snagged a corner spot for the Phoenix First Friday Art Walk in June & July?), et cetera), and it is my belief that if enough people are interested enough in what I’m doing to want to pay attention, then I’ll be able to make a living on volume. This is a version of the “1000 true fans” model – if I can find a critical mass of people who will gladly buy every book I put out, and enough people who will buy a piece or two of my art every year, and I just keep putting out new stuff all the time – two, three, or more books a year and dozens of paintings, I can do what I love and still eat.
Because I believe people want what I create, not to see ads for what I’ve created and will be releasing later. Marketing is to let people know the product is available – don’t confuse the issue and begin to believe that marketing is what the people want.