Sunday, February 11, 2007

One Book at a Time Part 1

Books are sold one at a time. To individuals.

The aren't sold to nameless, faceless masses. Each of those buyers has a name, and a face, and a reason for buying.
  • Some people buy books because they collect them.
  • Some people buy books to give as gifts.
  • Some people only buy books in certain genres.
  • Some people buy books based on reviews.
  • Some people buy books based on word-of-mouth.
  • Some people only buy books by certain authors.
  • Some people buy books because they feel obligated.
  • Some people buy books because Oprah told them to.
  • Some people buy books to read more than once.
  • Some people buy books, read them, then give them away.
  • Some people only buy books on sale.
  • Some people only buy paperbacks.
  • Some people only buy hardcovers.
  • Some people only buy large print.
  • Some people only buy audiobooks.
  • Some people only buy text downloads.
  • Some people only buy used books.
  • Some people buy for the library markets.
  • Some people buy books and never read them.
  • Some people read a lot but never buy books.
  • Some people buy books to resell them.
And so on. Different people buy books for different reasons. But unless you lecture to businesses who buy in bulk, the majority of books sold are sold one at a time, to individuals.

If you want to reach an individual, do you treat her like she's part of a group? How many individuals can you do this to before you start losing the interest of others who buy books for different reasons?

I know what you're thinking. It's impossible to personally reach thousands, let alone millions, of people. Right?

Wrong. Everyone who buys Patterson's latest thriller is doing it for a specific, individual reason. They aren't doing it because the publisher tells them to, or casts some magic spell. They aren't doing it because they're in touch with every single other Patterson reader, and all conspire, herd-like, to make him rich.

They're buying Patterson books as individuals, not en masse. But even though I write books similar to Patterson, and share some of his fanbase, he has many more fans than I do. This begs the question:

Does Patterson have the same type of fans as I do, only more? Or does Patterson have different types of fans than I do?

I believe the majority of his fans are different.

An author named Geoffrey A. Moore wrote a book called Crossing the Chasm, which is all about selling technology driven products. Moore believes that the majority of people who buy a product only do so after the 'early adopters' (15% of the buying public) embrace it. If they do, then early majority, late majority, and laggards (83% of the population) follow suit.

For the past few weeks, I've been thinking this is a pretty good model for the book biz, and explains why some books become major hits and others fail.

While books are sold one at a time, not all book buyers are created equal. There are tiers of importance.

1st Tier: The Diehards - These are the early adopters, the people who must embrace your book first before you can be a success. They include Booksellers, Librarians, Megafans (collectors, bloggers, voracious readers, people who help spread the word, family and friends) and the Media (reviewers, interviewers.) These buyers act like megaphones, offering information and recommendations to the other tiers to encourage them to try your books.

This group is targeted with advance reading copies, through book tours and library visits, through catalogs, through advertising, and through industry conventions and organizations (BEA, ABA, ALA, GLBA, etc.) A lot of time and money is spent to cultivate this group.

These are the people who the majority authors sell to. And depending on your print run, that might be enough to earn out your advance/have more than a 50% sell-through. But it won't be enough to make you rich and famous.

2nd Tier: Heavy Users - These folks account for a good portion of book buyers. They're readers who buy many books a year, and are actively looking for something new to read. They're influenced by the 1st Tier. Heavy Users usually stick to a specific genre because they know they enjoy it, and they value reading as one of their top ways to relax and be entertained.

A portion of this group attends conventions, visits bookstores, and spends time online looking for books and authors. They are targeted through advertising, conference appearances, and having a large online presence.

These are the people you need to 'break out' and have a shot at the bestseller lists.

3rd Tier: Casual Users - These also account for a good portion of book buyers, but they only buy books occasionally. These are the people who don't usually visit bookstores and don't necessarily value books as one of their main forms of entertainment. They read a few authors that they've enjoyed in the past, or they buy/receive books as gifts, or they only buy books when necessary (on vacation, at the airport, because a book was strongly recommended.)

This group is targeted with media and advertising. They aren't particularly interested in meeting authors, and they aren't online surfing writer websites. But their purchase power is necessary to have a mega bestseller.

4th Tier: Johnny Come Latelys - This is the group that only buys books after everyone else has bought them. They might not even read the books, but they don't want to miss out. These are the folks that make Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code into monster bestsellers.

In my next blog entry, I'll try to explain what authors and publishers should be doing to effectively reach each of these groups.