Friday, August 24, 2007

Got Answers?

There’s an interesting thread running through one of the Mystery Writers of America’s discussion boards this week, all started by observant social critic and damn good mystery author, Don Bruns. A recent poll showed that 1 in 4 Americans read no books at all last year and that the number of people who describe themselves as ‘readers’ is rapidly dwindling. While it really comes as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about America, Don repositioned the discussions, getting us thinking what, if anything, can be done to reverse the trend.

Don started by recapping a pair of successful, industry-wide awareness campaigns, the Milk industry’s classic “Got Milk?” and the Beef industry’s successful “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner”. As Don put it, “I wonder why the major publishers can't band together for a campaign that doesn't sell individual books. A campaign that promotes the excitement of reading.”

Don’s thoughts parallel those of our very own Rick Blechta. Rick and I discussed this problem – not the US specific stuff, just readership in general – at some convention a few years back (a little help with the name here, Rick). At that time we knew it was a swell idea but the more we discussed it, the more we saw that the industry would not get involved, that as much as they are all suffering (relatively), the publishers are still in competition with each other and that every dollar spent promoting reading in general is a dollar that can’t be spent reading something specific, like their own authors.

This sad reality was also mentioned on the thread and while people came up with some really clever ideas (this from a guy who spends his days at an ad agency filled with clever ideas), we all know that nothing will come of it, and readership will continue to decline and one publishing company after another will go under, the others all excited until it happens to them.

And that reminds me of a parable.

Once upon a time, a man announced he was going to open a new business in town. That very day, the owner of an ad agency dropped by and tried to interest the man in her agency’s services.

“I’m just starting out,” the man said, “I can’t afford to waste any money on advertising.”

A year goes by and slowly the man’s business improves. The ad woman stops back to see if the man is interesting in adverting his business. “Why bother,” the man says, “I’m doing great!”

Well hard times hit the town and within a year the man’s business is struggling to stay afloat, and again the woman drops by. “I can barely keep my doors open,” the man says, “I can’t waste any money on ads.”

Six months later the man walks into the ad agency. “I’m going to need some advertising,” the man says.

“That’s great,” says the ad woman. “What do you need?”

The man groans. “A sign that says Going out of Business.”

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

Charles,

It was Bouchercon in Madison last year.

I'll write more about all of this in my blog entry for this week.

Stay tuned!

Rick