In the ongoing debate of the value of “traditional publishers” in today’s digital landscape, certain activities in which publishers are engaged — very, very valuable activities — often seem to be overlooked. While the debate centers on the shift to “low cost” digital products (and the resulting move away from physical distribution and account-leverage for merchandising and maximizing physical sales and efficiency via scale), “quieter” activities such as providing advances and applying editorial expertise get swept under the rug. This oversimplification of what is happening finds me incredulous and puzzled. But, that’s just me. (And several others I know.)
This oversimplified view extends to the marketing efforts of publishers — and that’s what I’ll focus on here. Efficacy, ROI, and attribution seek to define the value of marketing efforts (and those of publicity and sales departments, as well). Having been a line marketer as well as a strategic marketer looking at scale, I have a perspective on some of the additional value marketers add above and beyond just growing sales efficiently. Not to say that is not important but there’s simply more to it than that — much more.
I recently came across something called the Hype Cycle, a means of describing technological disruption, adoption, and application. The theory has its roots in the prescient work of economist Carlota Perez and what she referred to as Techno-Economic Paradigm shifts. Basically, and to vastly oversimplify and miss half the point of her work, she sought to describe what happens when a new technology enters the marketplace and, really, the zeitgeist. The Hype Cycle curve is most prominently applied today by Gartner, the technology research and consultancy juggernaut. And they apply Hype Cycles to nearly everything.
I love the framework and wish to apply it to book marketing to get at some of the overlooked work of marketers — and to propose an addition to the cycle. Here’s my prose breakdown of the cycle:
- Technology Trigger: A new technology launches. Say, Twitter.
- Peak of Inflated Expectations: As the new tech gains users, publicity, success stories, capital, and more the potential inherent in it — and how paradigm-shifting it will be — begins to be blown out of proportion. “Twitter changes everything.”
- Trough of Disillusionment: Ha! What a wonderful turn of phrase. As with any false “high,” there is a drop-off. Sudden and often deep. What were we thinking? Not only is this no Panacea, it is so much less than we thought. “Twitter is a useless waste of time.”
- Slope of Enlightenment: The “Hmmm, maybe there is something here after all” moment. Accompanied with the clear-eyed view that it may not be the case that the technology is fundamentally life-changing but that there is in fact value there. Achievable value, no less. “Maybe this Twitter thing can work for me.”
- Plateau of Productivity: Adopting the technology and applying it to one’s goals in light of the now-realistic expectations. “Twitter is helping me (now that I know what to do with it and don’t expect the world of it).”
Here’s the drop: every marketer (and publicist) has to manage authors, agents, editors, sales forces, accounts, etc., etc. through these cycles. In addition to developing marketing plans that take advantage of every new opportunity of value and executing on those plans, they have to convince everyone that what they are doing is wise and coach them through the Hype Cycle. No small feat at all, that.
In my experience as a marketer, there is an additional, currently missing piece of the cycle. Namely, fear. Here’s how I would describe it:
- Fear: In this context, the notion that the new technology is so huge, complex, and will have such a profound effect on business that it must mean trouble. Do I embrace it? Will I be a lemming? Even if I’m not a lemming, I’ll need to really change how I do things. Will I have time to learn it? To use it? What if I’m no good at it? “Twitter is hard. I don’t want to do it. Do I?”
I see three places on the curve where fear can, and often does, creep in:
- “Early Fear”: Basically, as a technology takes off, there are certainly great expectations. But I’ve also seen fear at this point. This was true in, say, the early days of eCommerce. It was great. But…where would it lead? Amazon is the object lesson here for everyone from suppliers (publishers) to consumers (anyone who has turned all of their purchasing data over to Amazon). We’ll stick with Twitter and I’ll get personal: as it was entering the consciousness of everyone (myself included), I was at first dismissive but also worried. How would this apply? If it did, what would it mean? Should I care? I’m a technology-forward marketer. I can only imagine how this might have a hit an author who may be less tech-forward. Not all authors, but many. I would suspect there’d be some background unease at least.
- “Mid-Point Fear”: As the trough approaches, one has either adopted the technology or not. If one has, this is the moment of feeling afraid that one has wasted time or is continuing to do so instead of doing something else that is “really important.” This is the “oh no” kind of fear and can result in everything from quietly stopping the activity to being angry at having “bought into it all.” I’ve experienced this repeatedly and I suspect other marketers and authors have, as well.
- “Learning Curve Fear”: As the more realistic view of the technology gradually (or suddenly) seeps in, the fear that one has fallen behind or abandoned something truly valuable sinks in. If I were an author in 2013 and I’m just launching a Twitter profile, I’d be thinking, Man am I behind or what? But, also, I might not be good at this. Or, I have a lot to learn. Or, I’m still not sure this is worth it? And so on…
This would all be merely interesting except that, for book marketers, managing themselves and their stakeholders through the Hype Cycle — now with increasing frequency — is a major aspect of successful publishing. At various points, marketers (and publicists) act as coaches, therapists, sherpas, thought leaders, dissenters, trainers, and so on, making decisions and proffering advice and support as best as they can using what information they have.
This is profound and very difficult. Book marketers should be applauded for how well they do given the number and nature of their stakeholders (he types, not wishing to offend any of those stakeholders). Hype Cycles, the fear they entail, and book marketers’ often successful navigation of choppy tech waters needs to enter the public discourse. I would particularly like to see the megaphone pundit-authors like Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, and Tim Ferris admit that this is real and, for most books and authors, a major undertaking. It’s nice to be a digital native with a massive platform and tertiary revenue streams. But most authors are not. Publishers add value — massive value — in not only managing their constituents through these cycles but, more often than not, making the most of the Plateau of Productivity.
I’m very curious to hear what you all think.