No Freemium Lunch

OR why old style marketing isn’t dead
it’s just biding its time…

Imogen Heap getting her face painted black for the video of the crowdsourced song “Lifeline” (photo shot from my monitor)

I read an article recently on a blog written by a friend of mine, Matt Kelland, and he was clearly and with good humour stating why the modern age is pervaded by “free lunch” marketing scenarios. (Check out his post here.) Matt’s thesis is that although Crowdsourcing, The Long Tail and Freemium are interesting subjects, wonderful idealistic ideas and while not TOTAL nonsense are at best only successful in certain specific circumstances. (I’m paraphrasing horribly but I’m hoping Matt will forgive me.)

Matt is a businessman with MANY years of experience in cutting edge technology companies, but he is also a writer and a musician and lives in a wonderful hotbed of creativity and freedom of expression in Florida. As an inhabitant of both “worlds” so to speak, few people are so well placed to make the observations which he does in that blog. You should listen closely to what he has to say.

Now before you get all uppity with me about Matt and I stepping on your dreams, hold on. Let me say I am not sceptical, not about anything really, and am fully open to the idea that these concepts are at least worth talking about and it would be WONDERFUL if they were totally true and worked 100% of the time. But they really don’t and here’s why.

I’m vividly reminded of the democratisation that digital technology gave to first the publishing world (with DTP) the music world (with MIDI and then Digital Audio Workstation software) and the movie business (with the advent of cheap HD video cameras and Final Cut Pro) just as a few examples from my direct experience. In all these cases, new technology came along which caused a huge paradigm shift in what was possible and it placed the means of production in the hands of everyone who wanted it.

Did this cause a revolution? Yes. The markets in all three cases were FLOODED with rubbish. Just because anyone can do something doesn’t mean they should. Put the means to make wonderful music into the hands of an imbecile, and you will not get a prize winning album that lives in the hearts and minds of music fans for generations. Did world class movies all start to get made on camcorders? No. Did DTP create hundreds of world class magazines and books? Well eventually but not really. Just because anyone can do it doesn’t mean anyone has the ability to do it.

Which brings me back to the subject in hand. Marketing in the 21st Century. Can you buy $1,000,000 worth of marketing clout from a couple of hundred tweets? Can you use the hive mind to create work where the sum is greater than the parts? Does it make a difference to established writers that there are a million more books on the market because anyone can get a Kindle book up in minutes?

Crowdsourcing, The Long Tail and Freemium are not answers. They are questions, and most of the answers are no. Or at least not now.

BUT, in certain circumstances they work as production or marketing tools. Why? Because the things that were being sold were GOOD IN THE FIRST PLACE and these so called “new marketing” tools, along with the currently omnipresent focus on “social media” whatever the blazes that really means, were icing a pretty large cake.

All the Internet driven overnight sensations you hear about (and usually from people who tell you can can duplicate that success for a few bucks) were not driven by any new technological snake oil, or magic bullets or magic beans. They were quality product that some poor sap spent literally hundreds of man hours marketing the old fashioned way, through perspiration, ingenuity and guts.

Amanda Hocking

Case 1) Amanda Hocking, the celebrated eBook author, is pointed to as an example of how you can tote your wares through selling for free or cheap and pumping social media to make a million dollars. People will raise her name as a freedom fighter against big business and how she is single handedly defeating the dinosaur of old school publishing. Which could not be further from the truth. You know how she succeeded? She wrote a LOT of stories. She got them professionally edited. She spent literally hundreds of woman hours getting people to review the books on their blogs. She did good work and she put in a LOT of work promoting it. And she gets really pissed off if people talk about how she’s against traditional publishing, when she was actually always wanting for her books to end up in print, which they now are.

Case 2) Imogen Heap recently crowd sourced the first song on her new album, doing live video broadcasts every day where she sought samples from listeners to inspire the song, then words to inspire the lyrics, then graphics and video to inspire the video and packaging. It was a gargantuan effort and she was almost clinically exhausted by the end of it, but she included the fans every step of the way allowing them an unprecedented level of access to her and providing a pretty much unique experience for them. She improvised songs for them live, told stories, some funny some touching, and let the fans lead her places she would not normally have gone. But lets be clear, she didn’t NEED the fans to help, she did all the heavy lifting. They were part collaborator, part audience, and in an experience which gave as much as it took.

There are a few examples, but they are in the minority, driven by people who are talented and work VERY hard to get their art done.

I am a working writer, I need to get paid sometimes just as much as the other guy. (The other guy being Harlan Ellison apparently, if you google that NSFW video of him frothing at the mouth about getting paid.) But for me it’s not all about getting paid, PARTLY because I know how hard it is to get people to notice you and what good work you do. It’s hard. You have to believe in yourself and keep at it. But partly it’s about sharing information. In the absence of making a million quid by tweeting you have to spend you time doing something. I spend my time sharing what I know to the best of ability.

And hey, I’m as guilty as anyone of promoting new ways of doing things, but I do so with a beady eye on the fact that it’s all down to two things: A good product and getting the word out. And it’s an uphill struggle, my friend, I won’t lie to you. I can’t promise you instant success, and nobody can. But if you are passionate, dedicated, unshakable in your faith in what you do best, you will succeed. That I CAN promise you.


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Thanks for reading, see you again soon.


2 thoughts on “No Freemium Lunch

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