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.