It’s all about talking directly to consumers these days. Amazon’s personal recommendations, based on what you’ve already bought, is already looking primitive. Publishers – all sorts of suppliers – have been harvesting email addresses and mobile numbers so they can contact us personally when they’ve got something new they think we’ll like. Soon we’ll be pointing our smart-phones at the TV, where AR will offer us a quick purchase of a leather jacket like the character’s wearing, or the sound system they’re listening to, or a ‘franchise-based product’ like a replica sonic screwdriver.
It all sounds a bit relentless, so let’s accentuate the positive. Impulse buys have always been a vital part of retail sales. These are now threatened by the rise of purchases via the internet, and in supermarkets (which tend to be a ‘dedicated buy’). Recently it’s become possible to measure when books are ordered, and there was a noticeable spike in sales when a book was featured on a TV book programme. You could think ‘That looks interesting’ and just get it, rather than waiting till you were online and happened to remember – or worse, still remembered what it was next time you were in a bookshop. With AR used on posters and other media, quick and accurate impulse buying is back to benefit authors.
Easier download-to-own TV programmes will hopefully encourage more speculative buys. Nowadays you’ve got to be pretty sure you want the series if you’re going to buy the boxed set for all that money. If you can order up an episode for, say, £2.50, you can take a risk. Of course, if you run out of steam halfway through series one, that means less money flowing through ultimately to the writer, but if it means more people trying out more series, it’s still good news.
It does beg the question as to whether we want companies to know our tastes. It would seem that the last truly subversive act left to us now is to refuse to buy. As an agent, professionally all I care about is whether writers make (at least) a fair return for their work. Perhaps we have to face the fact that the horse has already bolted anyway, and enjoy the crazy new world we seem to be in.
Heard about a couple of interesting social trends last week.
At Byte The Book, digital publisher Dan Franklin referred to our high streets being places where we socialize. It’s not about shops, any more – coffee shops and restaurants define it now.
Another effect of the shift towards digital shopping is that some chain stores have been supported in one way or another by suppliers. Publishers recognise that if Waterstones disappears, the only ‘shop front’ they have (with any range) is gone. Equally, HMV has been propped up. People need to see things, handle them, make impulse buys – even if they buy more books, films etc online. So we’ll still have some shops to browse in.
However, with the advent of UltraViolet, we can buy films and music that are stored online, accessible by us anywhere.
Inasmuch as high streets will stay a combination of shops and restaurants, our ownership of media will stay mixed, I think. I can’t be the only person around who fondles favourite books. What’s changed my life as an agent is how – now we submit scripts by email – I can’t kiss them for luck as they go off. But I can blow a kiss. It often works.
It’s just been announced that Emma Adams will be Writer in Residence for the New Writing programme at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Naturally, Emma’s really excited, and I’m completely thrilled. This is a major step forward.
It takes longer, and more work, than anyone would expect, to get a writer launched. You think maybe in a couple of years they’ll be getting a reasonable number of commissions, and nearly earning a living off their writing, but typically it’s much longer. Emma was unusually self-starting at the dawn of her career, and her talent was recognized relatively early when her first play was short-listed for a Meyer-Whitworth Prize. She’s had a second play toured nationally, and other small commissions, and a lot of activity going on. It feels like we’ve nearly built up that critical mass.
Producers have to have time to watch how a writer’s early career starts to shape up – whether their writing is consistently good, whether their work finds an audience, and whether other producers also think they’re good. But it takes nerves of steel to keep confident through this period.
Sometimes, of course, a writer hits big very early on. I had a client whose first book was published by a very posh publisher when he was 25. This is the client I lost most sleep over. You need to know what you’re doing wrong, as well as what you’re doing right, and an early success can make a writer afraid to look honestly at both forms of feedback. If you don’t learn this vital information in the tough early years, it’s very hard to work out how to maintain your success. As Fanny Brice says in Funny Girl, when she’s suddenly offered a spot in the Ziegfeld Follies, ‘But I haven’t suffered yet!’
I’m very proud to be representing Emma, whose voice is one of the most interesting and stimulating I’ve ever come across. And she’s certainly earning her success.