Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What Authors Can Learn from Streaming Media

I haven't had cable television in over a year.  Even when I had cable, I didn't have particularly good cable.  All the same, I kept up with lots of my favorite shows:  Spartacus, Game of Thrones, Dexter, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, you name it.  I also consume a lot of movies.  Like, a lot.  Especially foreign films, B-movies, indie releases, etc.

Naturally, this means we watch a lot of streaming video.

We currently have subscriptions with Netflix (streaming-only) and Hulu Plus, as well as a free membership at Crackle.  We buy movies on Amazon (though we haven't bought a Prime membership yet).  For a while we got discs from Blockbuster as well, and we also briefly had a Gamefly subscription.  Here's what this experience has taught me, and how authors can apply it to their lives.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this too, so please comment!

  1. If I like something I saw for free, I'm more likely to pay for it in the future.  If I've watched a show and liked it once on Netflix, I'm pretty likely to buy it if I find it as a good deal.  If I really love a show, I'm pretty likely to actively go out and buy the entire thing so that I have it whenever it's available.  You never know when something might disappear from the streaming site, and the risk of losing it forever is scary.  This is one reason why I packed up and hauled a huge shelf of DVDs across the country for the bazillionth time (and we won't even talk about how many boxes of books).  When it comes to books, I'm the same way.  If I really like a free e-book, I'm much more likely to buy other, not-free books from that same author.  
  2. If I don't like something, I don't give it my time. Long ago, I believed I 'owed' it to books etc. to finish them, even if they weren't great.  Then I grew up and got busy and my time is way too valuable for that shit now.  I can usually tell within about 10 minutes if a book or movie is going to work for me.  It's hard to believe, as a writer, that your story can really be judged on its first five pages, but trust me -- it's true.  It's not that anything particularly interesting has to happen in those first few pages.  In fact, an action-packed opening will probably be a turn-off.  No, I just need a flicker of something -- we'll call it voice -- to come alive and tell me "Hey, you're going to like this.  Stick around."  For me this has very little to do with specific events and everything to do with storytelling competency and an ability to connect to characters.  I'll write a whole post about this some time if you want.  But anyway: If the story doesn't hook me, it's gone.  It's over.  I've got endless amounts of material to get through. 
  3. When I Like Something, I Want ALL of It.  I'm watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix right now.  I've made it through four seasons in about three weeks.  Let's just say the auto-play function on Netflix is very, very dangerous.  But here's the thing:  If I like something, I want more of it right now.  I don't want to wait a year for the next season (or book) to come out, I want to be able to consume it right away.  At the very least, I want a backlist I can paw through while I wait on the next book. 
  4. Authors need a better recommendation system.  My favorite thing about Netflix is its targeted recommendations.  The more you watch, the more keenly hyper-specific the recommendations get, and Netflix has hooked me up with tons of shows that I really loved.  Some of my current Netflix recommendation queues:  "Social and Cultural Documentaries About Food," "Violent Chinese Movies," "Dark Cerebral Foreign Thrillers."  Why, yes, sign me up!  Seriously, why is nobody doing this for books yet?  The "Also bought..." feature on Amazon can only get you so far.  My recommendations on Goodreads seem to be all over the place because it's too tied up with genre and not with specific elements within the books I like.  If I could find a system that would recommend books to me with the overly-specific accuracy of Netflix, I would read so many more books in a year.  
  5. Authors should lean on each other for advertising.  Here's a radical thought.  What if, at the end of your book, instead of including an excerpt for your own next book, you put in an excerpt for a different author's book?  If I'm reading your book and liked it, the chances are pretty good I'll read your next book.  I probably won't even bother reading an excerpt.  I already know by the time I finish the book in my hands whether I'll look you up again.  But if the excerpt or blurb or whatever is for a different author -- one that would interest me as a reader of your books -- I'll be more likely to go check them out.  For example, Hulu and Crackle both have original series.  Sometimes, commercials for these original series run during shows I'm already watching.  What better way to advertise a Hulu or Crackle Original than on a popular program?  Writers need to get their heads together and make this happen.  
  6. Subscription-based aggregates are the future of media.  I predict that streaming video services will completely overtake television within a few years.  Especially now that streaming-originals are gaining in popularity, and most people who do watch television do so through recordings rather than tuning in at the scheduled time.  This has the potential to be extremely interesting.  For one, paid subscriptions will replace the need to run so many advertisements, which means shows will be more about their content and less about ads. For another, it means that audiences can be very narrow and specific and still be profitable. If media isn't trying a shotgun approach aimed at a wide audience, maybe it can take more chances and be more interesting.  It's possible that, in the future, subscription-based aggregates for e-books might be the next big thing.  I can foresee a set-up where people pay a monthly subscription in exchange for free access to books -- like the current Amazon Prime setup, but with a wider net.  I can also imagine a world where authors sell access directly to consumers by setting up a website and charging a membership fee in exchange for exclusive content.
Change is always pretty scary, but I think this overall pretty exciting.  I think people are consuming more media than ever before, and writers are in the middle of that.   We've shifted our entire concept of media away from distribution vessels.  We're no longer interested in books or CDs or DVDs.  We're interested in stories and music and movies.  And ultimately, I think that puts a lot of the power in the hands of the art-maker.  We just need to find a way to really use that power, and maybe other types of media will lead the way.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I too, have turned off my cable last year and watch strictly through Netflix. Good enough for me.