There was a time when if you were an author, it was a very big deal. What made it such a big deal with the fact that there was a gatekeeper. This gatekeeper was the overly powerful book publisher. The publisher (or publishing industry) made a qualitative judgment on the types of products that entered into the marketplace. Very few people actually got their stuff published so there was limited selection compared to the volume and variance of the consumers. This system worked very well for profitability as it arguably kept the quality of products extremely high. The same system was used In all sorts of media including video games, newspapers, movies, television, radio, and even broadway.
But things have changed dramatically now that we’re in the information age. Self-publishing has become the norm thanks to the the great tech companies of our age. There are YouTube stars, bloggers with websites that are so slick they’re better than most published magazines, podcasts that are higher quality than NPR and Soundcloud musicians who have tunes better than any record label artist. Then there is the world of Amazon et. al. and self-published books, the world I’m trying to work in.
All of this is self publishing in every media format is great because it drives the volume of product available to consumers to stratospheric levels and every possible niche can be explored. Of course this means discoverability becomes a problem and quality may become an issue as there is a ton of garbage out there in every media format. Everyone can be a radio star, a writer, a video game developer, or even a food critic. This seismic change in the media landscape was hilariously parodied on the South Park TV show Yelp episode. It doesn’t matter if your good or bad, you can now produce content in the media format of your preference.
Another developing challenges is that the price of media is going down, so people are getting paid less and less even when you eliminate the traditional publisher middle man. Gatekeepers old and new are always experts at driving profitability first and foremost even if it winds up limiting income opportunities of creators. You can see this in the earliest days of the movie studios. Big actors just received a salary like every other employee. They didn’t get a piece of the action until the actors and agents became as sophisticated as the studio system. Fast forward to today and the tech companies are the new gatekeepers through several means including app Store recommendations. Everything old is New Again… sort of.
Media options are exploding and income from media is falling. Everyone seems to be writing a book, or making a movie, hosting a blog, etc.. Seeing all this, Andrew Medal writes an article about how books are the new business card. According to his philosophy, the effort of writing is no longer about the product, it’s just one more venue of advertising and promotions for your other work. Considering the enormity of the effort of writing a book and keeping a blog going to promote the book, the article got me thinking. So the question is, is this book, or anyone else’s self published book just a business card? I came to the conclusion that the answer is both YES and NO. If all you do is write the book, put it on Amazon, and bring it to a couple of tradeshows then I guess it just is an expensive business card.
On the other hand, if you write it, promote it to the best of your abilities, put it out in different formats, promote them, etc.. Then write another one, and promote that one.. Etc.. then It’s a product, or more specifically a product line, not a business card. The same can be said for anything.. Are you writing music? Are you making a podcast? What about an indie video game developers? The way I figure it, is that if you are striving for excellence and consistency of delivery, if the primary focus of your work is the product, then you have to treat it like a product.
There is nothing wrong about using a book as a business card, or writing one to help promote and enhance your other services. I’m sure it’s a valuable tool if done correctly. It’s not the direction I’m going in, but it’s definitely something to consider if you want to offer a portfolio of services to organizations.
All of this being said deciding about how you are going to use your writing, and then implementing your plan is a very complicated series of decisions and actions. It’s so complicated in fact that I think someone should write a book on the subject. I know I’d buy it.
This post was inspired by the commentary: “Books Are the New Business Card” by Andrew Medal