Books, Sex and Why Publishing Still Matters

I remember reading John Naisbitt’s Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives years ago and being struck by the concept of high tech/high touch. That is, the more high tech our lives became, the greater our demand for high touch elements. This could account for everything from office design through to the interest in gadgets, and surprisingly, books. And everywhere I looked I could see evidence.

Then, as eBooks began their steady march forward, there were many who suggested that the book publishing industry was on the brink of collapse. We now know this is not true – and that book publishing may well be in the healthiest shape that it has been in for decades. BookExpo America indicates that there were over 130,000 active publishers in 2008 – an increase of 27%. And virtually all this growth occurs in the small publisher category. Clearly it would take something seismic to destroy a $40.3 billion industry.

BookExpo America — Book Industry TRENDS 2009

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But despite the growth of blogs and other forms of social communication, books continue to hold a prominent position in our culture. Think about the recent conferences you have attended – how many of the keynote speakers are authors? Think about the way we still continue to revere books. Perhaps it is the lure of storytelling or something more primal. Bruce Temkin suggests that part of our biological makeup, fundamental to evolutionary success, is the way that stories transform our brain’s responses:

People relate to stories because it is part of their evolutionary makeup. Stories cause our mirror neurons to fire at similar experiences, helping us remember and relate.

In my own experience, as the author of The Dialup Guide to Blogging, and more notably, publisher and contributor to The Age of Conversation, extreme care is taken whenever a word is laid out in print. We take more care with words when they are perceived as more PERMANENT than the digital variety, and we pay more attention to their context when they are given physical presence. Yes, a potential employer may Google your name before an interview, but they may throw a quote back in your face. Words really can eat you.

But on the consumption side – as a reader – books are also becoming status symbols. Up until recently, our book collections or libraries signalled our own tastes, follies and predilections to a private audience – those who are invited into the inner sanctums of our homes. (I don’t know about you, but when I visit a friend’s house, I scour their bookshelves for insight and maybe even scandal.) These days, however, we wear our libraries as badges of social honour – with sites such as, Amazon and Shelfari bringing our reading list into the social networking space.

Nowadays, books are indicators of our conscious attention decisions – when we choose to read a book, we choose to immerse ourselves in its world and the imaginings of the author. Kyle Mitchell, agrees:

Reading a book on the NYC subway is the ultimate declaration of refusal to be distracted by anything around you

But books go beyond this too. When we read a book, we are making a statement to others as well as to ourselves. We invest in an unwritten contract where the rewards on offer can only be reached via our own commitment. As readers, we delay our gratification until the very last page. It’s like a slow dance with an uncertain ending. It’s like sex – or more precisely – like seduction.

There is much that marketers can learn from publishing in this regard. How do we capture the inbuilt Auchterlonie Effect provided by books (allowing others to tell their story about OUR story)? How do we mimetically reproduce that high tech/high touch aspect that is bound up in hundreds of years of publishing history? I think Jeremy Lebard, creator of points us in the right direction:

Reading provides a quiet solitude seldom found in our busy world. It invokes in me a quiet chamber of the mind that shuts out external distractions and focuses on the story at hand. From that quiet room I get the best view of the world no matter where I am. The view is like no other; I watch a story unfold through the eyes of the author. The author’s words become the script and I the producer and out springs a living breathing story within the walls of my imagination. I am forced to interpret that with which I am unfamiliar. Every story I read takes my imagination for a workout. Reading forces you to become a producer that even with the merest budget it takes to buy a book you can compete with the latest commercially produced multi-million dollar production. Don’t believe me? Just listen next time a book is turned into a movie. More often than not you’ll hear “It’s not as good as the book”.

Opinion or Hate Mongering?

Further to my post on the atrocious piece by Miranda Devine and the Reason I Unsubscribed from the Sydney Morning Herald, the folks over at ABC TV's Media Watch weighed into the debate asking whether this type of article is opinion or hate mongering. 

I noticed a number of comments on Twitter as the program aired. But the video is now available on the ABC TV website, so you can see the segment for yourself here.

The article itself, the illustration used in the original piece and the editorial decision to place the article on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald website were discussed. Note that the image in question has now been removed from the website. Calling out the noted "hanging from lamp-posts" quote, Jonathan Holmes suggests:

That's not opinion-writing, Miranda. That's hate-mongering.
You and your paper, which saw fit to blazon your ugly piece across the front page of its website, should both be ashamed of yourselves.

Now, if only the ABC would allow their media player to be embeddable … 

Miranda Divine is the Reason I Unsubscribed from the Sydney Morning Herald

change is inevitableThere are many places where the “future of newspapers” is debated. It happens in the New York Times, on Twitter, on and on blogs, broadsheets and in back rooms. For the most part, I stay out of these conversations – clearly the publishing industry is under pressure and undergoing significant structural change (as it has been for well over 20 years), and we all have vested interests somewhere here.

My media consumption these days is mostly digital. This includes a large variety of online sources of news and information – but it also includes the Sydney Morning Herald’s website – where today, I stumbled upon this piece from Miranda Devine.

I was surprised at the tone and at the argument. At a time where the forest fires are still burning in Victoria, and containment lines being threatened, it not only seems too early to begin pointing fingers, it seems astounding that anyone would absolve any arsonist from responsibility. Miranda Devine begins her article, Green ideas must take blame for deaths as follows:

It wasn't climate change which killed as many as 300 people in Victoria last weekend. It wasn't arsonists …

And continues:

So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

Kieran Bennett has written a response, that is well worth reading.

Over the years I have enjoyed reading the Sydney Morning Herald, but have watched it become increasingly focused on lifestyle and opinion over the news and reportage that most interests me. I still have the weekend papers delivered to my door but find that I am leaving large sections wholly untouched every weekend. But after this article, I am cancelling my subscription. If this is where the future of newspapers is going, then they can go there without my interest or patronage.

Of course, I may end up being scornfully quoted on the Herald site in response. But by then, I will have been long disconnected from the Sydney Morning Herald and all who write for it.

UPDATE: Frank Sting writes an open letter to the Sydney Morning Herald Editor. You can read it here.

Does Social Media Scale?

Over the past week or so there have been a series of ideas coming together in my mind. I had been struggling to pull them together into a coherent framework until I saw this post by Peter Kim. He asks some difficult questions around the benefit of social media, but goes further — suggesting that social media does not scale:

One-ninth of the WORLD’s population watched the 2006 FIFA World Cup final.  Social media vs. Television for marketing purposes just doesn’t match up.

But in my view, this is looking only at potential reach around a single, fixed-in-time event. And surely the predominant global brand on display during the match was the FIFA World Cup — all the rest of the advertising space would have been segmented to maximise the returns available in each broadcaster’s market. This fragmentation of ad space is exactly the domain and power of the long tail — where social media can provide a resonance and relevance to niche audiences.

Having said this, there is an issue around the human resources required to activate a social media program. As Peter says:

I do believe social media can help sell.  Social content has started integrating into traditional tactics like banners and emails.  I have a better opinion of Comcast after Frank helped me with my cable modem and will resist Verizon FIOS for a while longer.  From my last post asking if social media matters, the commenting consensus seems to agree, with its impact in awareness, consideration, and preference.

But if social media marketing matters, then does it scale?

I don’t think so.  I think the technologies scale.  But the programs – especially those with a labor-intensive component – don’t.

socialmediascaleThe labour intensiveness of an active social media program can become a bottleneck. There simply are not enough Richard@DELL’s around to help every person with an issue. However, the aim — or certainly the aims I normally have in mind when constructing a social media or digital strategy — is to foster the growth of a community in such a way that “external participants” begin to play an active role. So rather than taking a broadcast view of social media, the aim is to facilitate a range of participatory action/activities. Effectively this means using social MEDIA to activate social NETWORKS.

In doing so you have to manage the constraints — COST, SCALE or CONTROL. Any change you make to one will impact both the others. The more you activate the social network, the less control you will have of your brand, your messaging and your story. Yet this is the cost-benefit paradox — for while you release your brand, your services and maybe even your support into the wilds of the social media landscape, you find, perhaps, a more authentic brand story coming to life — a story borne out of a participatory experience between your evangelists and your everyday or casual consumers.

Social Media = Consumer Terrorism?

With the emergence of self-organising groups such as the Social Media Club, Planning for Good and even Interesting South, is it any wonder that the peak bodies that represent the media, advertising and digital services are feeling under pressure? Often these bodies only provide services and membership to corporations, not individuals — which does not take into account the sweeping changes in the nature of work in these areas. After all, with the vast array of easy-to-use tools, we can all now publish, broadcast and market to a worldwide audience. It seems anachronistic for these industry bodies to not recognise and adapt to the changes that characterise the industries they represent.

The Job can be dangerous!And while bloggers such as Laurel Papworth have taken a swipe at Australia’s AIMIA and Gordon Whitehead has questioned the value of the Australian Marketing Institute, it is clear that there is a disconnect between those who represent the industry, and those who make it up (see also the debate hosted by MarketingMag). But the situation here in Australia compares favourably with the state of play in Belgium.

Kris Hoet’s popular blog, ‘crossthebreeze, builds on the conversation surrounding the Belgian Direct Marketing group’s upcoming conference — Revenge of the I. Roughly translated (by Kris), the email announcing the conference states:

“During the congress we’ll deepdive into the current era of ‘consumer terrorism’ that is coming up with the rise of digital and social technologies such as blogs, social networks and email.”

As Kris points out, not only does this remind brands and companies to treat consumers with suspicion, it sets up an artificial divide between the "traditional" and "new media" camps. Branding and marketing is no longer something that is forced upon consumers (if it ever was). After all, it is easy enough to simply click away, delete the email or fast forward through the advertising. The POWER disparity between brands and consumers has been eroding for years — and it is time that all parties — brands, industry bodies, practitioners and even consumers (yes, yes invite them in) began to collaborate to find suitable solutions that deliver value all round.

Yes, it is time to join the conversation. It is already happening. You start by listening.

The End of Channel Marketing

In this interesting post, Nic Hodges asks why aren’t we creating great digital work. By this, I think he may be referring specifically to the Australian advertising industry (but I could be wrong) — for there are certainly some excellent digitally-driven campaigns and case studies available for other markets. Nic discusses three issues around producing truly integrated work — lack of skills/knowledge, difficulty in convincing/educating clients, and a lack of process surrounding the integration of digital into an overarching campaign. He explains:

The fundamental idea that underpins these issues is that digital is a channel. Radio was a new channel. Television was a new channel. Digital is not a new channel, digital is a new world. It is an evolution of media that has taken with it the advertising industry. It is an evolution that, in the relatively short history of advertising, has not happened before.

This got me thinking. Perhaps the challenge that we are facing is not one of channels, nor of integration. I have a feeling that we are approaching this from the wrong direction — from the agency, or from the brand out — and maybe it would profit us to think in the other direction. I made the comment that:

We need to look at the nuances of the traditional channels and then think about how best we can amplify, enable and transform the experiences that consumers have with brands.

With a clear shift away from passive interaction with brands, messages and advertising and a growing adoption of social networks/media, user generated content and experiences that extend from the second to the third screen, the role of the digital strategist will necessarily move from the margin to the hub of campaign planning. This is not to downplay the role of the traditional or even the channel planner. But, in the near future (ok, now), brands need to be reaching and inviting us all to participate in ways that deprioritise the channels that favour one-way communications — opting instead for digitally-enabled experiences that blur the boundaries, amplify the stories and activate our engagement in polyphonic conversational structures. It’s time to stop looking through the channel and start listening to the conversations that are already ringing in our ears.

Future of Media Summit 2008


Ross Dawson’s Future of Media Summit was held simultaneously in Sydney, Australia and San Francisco, USA.

I live blogged the proceedings using CoverItLive (my first real usage of this service) while also attempting to feed this information into the Twitter stream — which you can view via Summize.

There was much "traditional media" vs "new media" discussion which bogged down the flow. This was particularly evident during the panel discussions which were heavily laced with members of "traditional media", with bare and often no representation from the "new" side of the business. This forced the alternate conversation into the "back channel" — the Twitter stream which was equally one-sided.

It wasn’t until later, during the unconference sessions, where Stephen Collins and Jed White took the lead in introducing the participants to Twitter (and the under-conference that had been happening all day). Unfortunately I had to leave by this time, but was able to roughly follow proceedings via Twitter — with new names popping up every couple of minutes. Perhaps, in this way, the future of media is PARTICIPATION.

But before we can get to participation, there is some work to do on education and on technology. There is some effort required to re-think the business models and the frameworks that we use to value communities, consumers and the space where they intersect with brands and publishers. It seems that ten years on, the vision of the Cluetrain Manifesto is coming into focus.

Congratulations go to Ross Dawson and team responsible for bringing together some of the stakeholders. I will be interested to see the way that this conversation pans out over the next 12 months.

I will have more analysis around this event in the coming days — and keep an eye out for the coverage from Stephen Collins, Stilherrian, Chris Saad, Craig Wilson, Mark Pesce and other attendees.

Pubcamp Sydney Voxpop

Craig Wilson and Gordon Whitehead from Sticky Advertising took some time out at Pubcamp Sydney to probe some members of the audience on the future of media in 2008. Here is the first set of responses … featuring (in order of appearance Gavin Heaton, Sean Carmody and Markus Hafner).

I am currently writing up a review of the Sydney event, but in the meantime, take a look at Matt Moore’s summary or view the twitter stream for yourself. Don’t forget, Pubcamp Melbourne next week.

PubCamp – The Web 2.0 Media Day from Sticky Advertising on Vimeo.

Your Platform is Not My Friend

I was reading ReadWriteWeb’s post on social networks and filtering and was immediately reminded of the Tangerine Toad’s Your Brand is Not My Friend. RWW’s Corvida is looking at the large amount of "noise" that occurs in social networks and suggests that filters are the necessary next step in the evolution of social networks.

However, one of the things that I most like about social networks is that the WAY that participants actually USE the social platform is what determines its value. Take Twitter for example. If it was down to Twitter, we would still be answering the question "what are you doing". Instead, the Twitter community have moved in a completely different direction, finding connections, conversation and activism a far better use of the 140 character micro-blogging format.

When you add the concept of personal branding to this, you can begin to see the importance of conversation. In this Age of Conversation, we are what we talk about. We are known by what we say and who we say it to. Our reputations rely on the connections we make, the friendships we build and the content we create. The platforms that we use to carry on these engagements are, to an extent, irrelevant — afterall, the almost all aggregate under the all-seeing eye of Google.

So while, yes, filtering would be a nice addition to most social network platforms (especially when you start to link them), the best form of filter is your friend. Not the platform. If you take the time to listen, learn and TRUST, then that personal network will pay back your time and effort many times over.

The Dream of Influence and the Democracy of Action

Touchgraph Over the last couple of days there has been a rash of conversation, discussion and analysis around the concept of "influence" — driven by the publication of Duncan Watts and Peter Dodds article on Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation. David Reich points out that the Fast Company article, Is the Tipping Point Toast, offers a little more context on Duncan Watts and his area of research; and this great post by Noah Brier drills down into the concepts even further.

Basically, Watts and Dodds are challenging the notion that influentials ("a minority of individuals who influence an exceptional number of their peers") are important to the formation of public opinion. This flies in the face of accepted marketing theory and the popularity of The Tipping Point. It also challenges the notion that marketers have of influence — and the way in which this notion of influence makes our lives easier. After all, it helps us target our messaging, our communication and our schmoozing efforts. This is why we dream of influence — it is aspirational. As marketers we like to feel that we have a finger on the pulse of society … but what happens when that pulse flatlines — or simply proves to be a phantom?

Late last year I wrote about the strength of weak ties. This fascinates me. The findings of Mark Granovetter’s research into social networks demonstrated that it is the WEAK ties that lead to action. If this is the case, then influence may only play an important role in the very early stages of branding efforts — to facilitate AWARENESS. But as consumers begin to engage with the brand messaging and various forms of communication, it appears that the power of the social network lies not in the level of influence of any select group but in the susceptibility of the audience to contagion.

Why is this relevant? Because on some level, our role as marketers, strategists or activists is not simply to raise awareness. Our job is to change the way that people think, or act — we want to prompt a change in perception or in behaviour. As marketers then, perhaps our best efforts — and probably our strongest DIGITAL STRATEGY lies in activating the weak links and leaving influence to the mass/traditional media (or to those bloggers who have mass audiences).

It is the democracy of action that drives much of my interest in social media … take a look at what is hot on YouTube or on Technorati. Think about BSP and the way in which a number of people "suddenly" begin writing on a similar topic. It is not the "influentials" who are going to instigate a new trend … they are merely documenting its early rise out of a network of weak links. So while my heart tells me that influencers are important, my head is telling me to go for the gold — and that seems to be quite a turnaround. Now … if only I could model it!