Posts filed under ‘Marketing’
It’s a startling and slightly mind-spinning exercise getting one’s head around the massive changes happening in the book world at present. First up, read this bulwark against piracy from the erudite John Birmingham in the Brisbane Times for a glimpse into the perspective of the average* jobbing novelist. It made for essential background before hitting up the Vivid Ideas session last night at the State Library covering the fractal economic mysteries of exactly WTF is going on with the publishing industry right now.
A few predictions and assertations from the panel caught the imagination immediately. These are (likely or not) food for what quickly grew into a monster train of thought what kept me up longer than the final scene of the latest episode of Game of Thrones:
- Books (as we know and love in bookstores and libraries) will be obsolete within five years.
- Australia is eighteen months to three years behind the U.S.A. in terms of adapting to the changes in technology.
- Electronic reader technology has only been around for five years, and driven by the insatiable consumer lust for content-on-demand, is likely to become the dominant format for publishing for the foreseeable future.
Do the math. Taken as the hard truth these three factoids spell utter disaster for local writers. Apparently by the time we catch up on the absurd debate around bookstore pricing, the war will have been lost. Australian publishers don’t know what to do; “it’s hard to turn the Queen Mary” as one panellist quipped. It was difficult to avoid seeing this as a bit of oversimplification, a throwaway line justifying an entire industry being a wombat frozen in the glare of Amazonian headlights – but one’s growing sense of disquiet as the debate went on tended towards sympathy with publishers and authors alike.
Because it’s not a publishing revolution at all. It’s a land-grab, with approximately two companies creating a virtual duopoly on information distribution channels in the new millenium. Lest we forget this is our information, our content they want to leech off of. With all the hype around access and cloud-publishing, it’s easy to lose track of the questionable track records of the companies providing this service. At best, they are behaving irresponsibly, at worst, they are the hacking, burning and pillaging Conquistadors of the Information Age. It’s the new frontier of colonisation. Your mind. And here’s the thing, authors are losing out, publishers are losing out, and yet we’re all kowtowing to our new electronic overlords as if it ain’t no thing.
By the time the panel had switched to Q & A I felt an urge to speak up. Without knowing quite what to say, a range of anxious phrases turned one’s lips into what I hoped might address the concept of a publishing revolution that might actually benefit readers, publishers and authors together. It made no sense, no answer was provided (if there was one then the questions would not need to be asked) and I left the building more anxious than I had arrived. Listening back on the podcast (kindly provided by 2SER) I realised what I meant to say was “I’d rather give away my work for free than let those fuckers make money off it”.
Because (and I use the nomenclature ‘those fuckers’ to avoid lawsuit – let’s just say you know exactly who I mean) I don’t want to do business with companies who exploit their workers, who store their information in non-renewable clouds, who take no responsibility for their actions. This is civilisation we’re talking about; the thing of which literature is the founding cornerstone, the thing that’s so fragile three days without running water could end it all, and yet has been going for thousands of years and what we hope will carry on for thousands more, if only we could see that far.
Let’s go back to Game of Thrones for a second. One of the more heartening predictions from the panel was that publishing would get increasingly more “niche”, and driven towards consumers via the ever more popular channels of social media. Not difficult to see that coming, but in the wee hours as I wept into my pillow for the impossible unborn slave-authors of the future I was struck by a kind of vision. Because as the George R.R. Martin novels have demonstrated: everything is niche, until it isn’t. And what’s happening in the book industry is no different to the changes to the international business models of music, film & television as driven by consumer demand. And reports indicate that Australians are world-leaders in ripping off creatives’ hard work with the laptops and internets and the piracies, as lamented by the aforementioned John Birmingham. The fact is that consumers don’t tend to think about how their entertainment gets made, as long as it gets made and they can see it right away. The handsome irony of all this; if you hang around the trendy Surry Hills bars with said eye-patch wearing hipsters is they all pretty much fancy themselves as creatives, and would be the first to complain when their employers’ cheque bounced, or when their favourite show gets cancelled because it was unprofitable. But I digress, that is perhaps an issue for another day…
The point is that the successful series of novels and subsequent HBO television event demonstrates a business model that can work, with video and literary crossover, satisfying a consumer demand in a way that’s sustainable for publishers – assuming they can see past the piracy issue – building fan bases niche-by-niche by giving away their content for free. I defy you to name a fan of the series who would not be willing to put up cold hard cash in order to keep that particular series afloat. Perish the thought- but should the powers at HBO see fit to cancel production, you can expect a riot. The HBO subscription model is proven, it is able to bring content of the highest quality to discerning consumers (whether they pay up-front or not); in fact the ability to quickly access the show within hours of release only generates more buzz online, more fans, and it’s only a small cultural leap from this sense of MUST-HAVE-NOW to a broad societal appreciation of the arts, and a willingness to reward those who provide the books, music and television shows we crave. I for one pledge to buy two copies of every episode on DVD – post fact. And not just because I’m a writer who one day might like to earn some money – but because I want these risk-taking companies to be rewarded for their efforts to provide something outside the box.
So there you have it, the future of publishing is this; increasing output of niche, quality content, branded and provided to the customers for free. Monetise it how you will, (if you must) but your true fans will come through a relationship based on giving. The greedy minds at other publishers won’t know what hit them. As for them who say ‘it-can’t-be-done’ I have only two further points. They said the same thing to the founder of Penguin, did they not? Adapt or perish, do not suffer the same fate as the Incans at the hands of the Conquistadors in the you-know-where.
Interesting times are afoot. Looking back at the year past one senses shifts in the theatrical landscape, conversation and the possibility of new horizons beginning to open up in the distance. Or, depending on your POV – the more things change, the more they stay the same – but amongst the semi-recycled quality of theatre seasons to come, there are just a few key indicators allowing the astute observer to spot the subtext of what’s really happening next in the world of the performing arts. Because if we read between the lines of the key events of oh-eleven, it doesn’t take much to see where things are heading in oh-twelve. As such we present our user guide to the year ahead. You read it here first.
All the rage, it’s been a creeping, steady growth of remix versions of the classic text for years now. New translations have become entirely new scripts writ “after” the original. At least one major theatre company is counting these as “new Australian works” in their marketing, but the controversy continues over authorship as other industry figures will dismiss these reworked scripts as “covers”. It becomes a matter of degrees of separation; exactly how far from the classic text do we need to go before we can say it’s our own? CAGELING (2010) springs to mind as a work that is its own unique end of the spectrum, while acknowledging the work by Federico Garcia Lorca the piece held its own physical theatre presence to confront the audience in lieu of dialogue. And at least they changed the title so we know it’s not pretending to be anything other than itself. But the tide is settling across the odd middle-ground where we can’t quite tell who wrote the thing. Who owns it (apart from the audience)… We aren’t saying if this is good or bad, just how it is, so keep an eye on the season programs, and let ye who casts the first stone be without fault…
Speaking of throwing rocks… bigger, angrier, smarter, meaner, more insightful and just good old fashioned bitchy. Theatre weblogs are proliferating and the discussion expands, audiences participate and gradually, production houses start to take notice. Far too long have the publicity trains been in the sponsor and marketers’ pockets, so it’s no surprise the major theatre companies have resisted a thorough public conversation about the work – but whether we agree with the writers or not, whether we find the commentary useful, insightful, ridiculous, funny or just plain shit –we are talking on your play and we are very much here to stay.
Casting is becoming as much about selling tickets as it is about talent. Some have earned it, others do little other than a few comfortable years in television before swanning into the best roles. Not mentioning any names…
We are glad to see more experimental and physical works coming into ‘traditional’ theatre spaces. Kudos to Company B for introducing their audience base to something different. Also keep an eye on the Performance Space program and fringe groups like StageJuice and Freshly Squeezed for the more outside-the-box works in the Sydney subcultures.
Each and every one of you…
Keep your eyes open! There are always freebies on offer if you know where to look.
The tug-of-war between supply, demand, import and export is felt in the performing arts as in every industry, but the localised nature of production makes for a uniquely difficult impasse. What it comes down to is the amount of top-quality artists willing to come and work on our stages (and who wouldn’t) – the STC offering something of a vanguard for the offshore director to stake a claim – and what exciting kinds of theatre are we getting as a result? Very exciting is what.
Naturally as this continues the funding bodies will adjust their funding structures accordingly so that our international guests aren’t taking precious Australia Council dollars away from local artists. Won’t they? I personally don’t have a problem with high calibre directors and performers working down at Hickson Rd, so long there’s an increase in local theatre production funding relative to the expanse of the international game. The Arts is a global industry, no doubt there, and we are (slowly) coming to terms with the idea that we can hold our own. But we need more room to breathe if we want to our own global artists to be able to reciprocate.
The flipside of the online proliferation of theatre comment (See B – Blogging) is the amount of trolling and nastiness that comes with. It’s enough to make a Critic Watcher hang up his binoculars as variations on thoughtless, hackneyed responses self-propagate across our screens. Check the comments section of Promptside’s review of The Economist for an inkling of the degree of vitriol abounding – it’s a lesson in how to look like a complete imbecile by saying nothing of value. Notably the creative’s responses are comparatively level headed – it shows the impact of giving comments serious thought before pressing *send*…
A few years ago John Ralston Saul spoke at the Sydney Writers Festival about the importance of tapping into collective stories and that the use of Indigenous languages was a critical component of our development as a storytelling nation… He said it much more eloquently than we do but over the years the rising profile of the First Australians in theatre has been steady and impressive; most recently Bloodland, spoken in traditional languages and resonating with all the cadences of contemporary Aboriginal theatre shows a willingness to recognise and embrace this part of Australian culture in the mainstream creative community that is essential to us taking a position in the world of theatre that is our own place. More.
Je ne sais quoi (I don’t know what)
Who Does? There is always a surprise in the air for the audience member or actor willing to take a shot on an unknown company, writer, a new play that gets overlooked by all the critics, always something special to be found in one of the nooks our city offers for creative, curious souls.
Trust me. Every half-baked critic worth the price of a complimentary glass of sparkling will be using this word to describe a piece of theatre that is slightly strange or absurd. It sounds so damned literary doesn’t it!
Seems like food writers can be sued for bad reviews, it’s only a matter of time before someone passes the buck over to blame the unsuspecting critic for box office losses… But then someone would have to take them seriously first.
Marginality, mediocrity and masturbation (more of the same)
Thank you, Peter Craven for highlighting everything that is wrong with your work. Oh wait, you were talking about art. Never mind. I must have missed the wanking scene in Baal…
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM…
Sport = Theatre + populism… Bring on London!
We tried graphing the *ahem* rise in phallic occurrences on Sydney stages this year and it was *cough* exponential.
Please wait until the end. I will answer them in due course.
Still the funniest, most politically acute show I have seen in a long time. Bring on 2012 for Federal Follies…
Yes. I am a trend for next year. Get used to it.
We’d like to see more leading theatre figures on this excellent microblogging platform. Everybody else is! Really, if you aren’t tweeting you’re missing half the real-time discussions and one cannot claim to have one’s finger on the pulse if it’s gently massaging the rectal passages of them who do the talking for you…
I thank Ms TN for this marvellous take on Bolt/Breivik in her recent review of The Economist:
“his contempt for evidence is symptomatic of an endemic toxicity in political discourse that itself produces delusion.”
Take THAT, fascist! I haven’t seen the play yet but honestly, I couldn’t have said it myself. We can only hope the power of the written word is as good for good as it is for evil.
More alternative spaces. Actually we need a decent mid-size theatre that’s open for independent producers.
I’m sure it’s nothing unusual but there are a lot of women in theatre making waves right now. Soon they’ll be allowed to own property as well…
(see G – Globalisation) We do love a good overseas company touring. Especially when they bring their own green laser pointers…
Young, upwardly mobile professionals
AKA New Audiences. I know how to reach them. Do you?
Archaic references in King Lear float my whistle. Watch this space.
That’s a wrap… Send me any thoughts or ideas for what you think are the touchstones of twenty-twelve. I welcome all comments!
JUST VICTIMS OF THE IN HOUSE DRIVE BY
In case you missed it, the big news this week was the dismantling of Art Nation by the ABC, along with staff redundancies marking the end of internally produced arts programs for the forseeable future on our national broadcaster. ABC management rhetoric is that there will still be arts coverage on Sunday afternoons, only now it will be outsourced from production houses.
In the industry, this is technically known as A Really Fucking Bad Idea. And not just because it involves people losing their jobs for no good reason. The arts in Australia is currently in a cycle of massive expansion; and audiences are literally starved for places to turn to find out what’s happening. To match that expansion, we need to equally draw out our public discussions around the arts, emphasising the diversity and significance on the national and global stage.
Given the breadth and multiplicity of the Australian art scenes; there aren’t many organisations with both the means and incentive to do this properly. And the ABC decides to let the marketplace sort it out? I fail to see the logic. Assuming that hour for hour the amount of coverage does not decrease; what kind of arts content can we expect from the commercial sector?
The short answer is: nobody knows. There isn’t exactly a thriving litany of examples of independent production houses making arts related television. There are some arts documentaries released through the festival circuit; but this is very niche compared to the broad magazine format of Art Nation. I reckon most would struggle to match the scope of what’s happening nationally without succumbing to the perils of the publicity machine. That’s the real benefit of the ABC, it is big enough to operate as a true independent and not become trapped by commercial interests. At what point do these outsourced companies draw the line between covering Art for Art’s sake, or covering Art because there’s some canny cross-promotion in the works? Or because it’s popular? Whether the new shows are better or worse, one thing is for sure: they won’t be independent.
THEY SAY JUMP YOU SAY HOW HIGH
Make no mistake, commercial production houses are strictly in the business of keeping their heads above water. It’s a highly competitive market and the shift to this sector will mark a decidedly populist shift in arts coverage on the ABC. For better or for worse, we can’t predict, but only a fool would suggest that the decision hasn’t been made with this in mind. It’s RATINGS, baby. HARDCORE. Now, I’m in favour of creating a wider conversation about the arts, so if more people end up engaging with the ABC arts programs as a result of this move, in of itself that is not a bad thing. The problem is the attitude that a more populist conversation must happen at the expense of what we already have.
As I said before – the arts is in a phase of major expansion, along with the public conversation surrounding it. The ABC can afford to grow that conversation along multiple lines, not just in a way that’s ratings driven. Making a shift from one to the other is a major ideological statement, with or without an official explanation. And by the way, we’re still waiting for that which was promised, Mr Dalton…
I think my worst fear is that the outsourced company will be Zapruder’s Other Films ( I mean, who else is there? ) and we’ll end up with a panel-style show that thrives on dumbing down its subject and peppering the broader conversation with lowbrow smut a-la Wil Anderson on The Gruen Transfer (perhaps that’s a subject for another day) or worse, idiotic and uninformed banter in the vein of the abominable Can Of Worms. After all, this is what independent production houses do, isn’t it? Stick with a formula?
Actually if I had my druthers I’d propose an Insiders style panel which actually offers lively analysis and news, interviews and debate around what’s happening in the arts. Skip the sniggering comedy and go with something that actually appeals to the wider ABC audiences who do watch the arts content. We could call it ‘Outsiders’.
Anyone interested in pitching this?
WHY STAND ON A SILENT PLATFORM?
What’s most disappointing about this is the disregard that ABC Corporate have for cultivating a national conversation about the arts. The lack of respect is evident by the tokenistic corporate-board speak coming from ABC Management; along the lines of ‘funding redistribution’ – euphemistically referring to the jobs lost. At a time when ABC TV is expanding onto multiple channels and there is obvious scope (and broadcast space) for wider, more thorough arts coverage, to take this step is tantamount to a slap in the face of the arts community. Can you imagine the uproar if this had happened in their sports coverage? And yet the evidence suggests that Australians are as much into the arts as they are sport – just that the national conversation has been stifled for so long you wouldn’t know it.
On top of this there has been no official statement from the ABC as yet, despite the promises. One can only imagine the PR team in overdrive as the backlash sets in, trying to sell us this turd of a decision, answer the questions coming from all angles (the arts community, the unions, even the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has put his two cents in). Red faces all around as what seemed like a good idea at the time comes back and bites the powers-that-be right on the arse.
Save yourself the hassle, Mr Dalton. The decision can be undone. Otherwise when it’s time for your tenure to end, you might not have the legacy you first imagined upon taking the reins.
Just a thought…
I have been a little bit hard-hearted, it seems; when I first began this column I was filled with irritation towards a culture of reviewing which skimmed the shallows of a critical conversation around theatre and performance. Short, descriptive nuggets offer nothing in terms of context or feelings, and what little analysis I read was usually reduced to nit-picking or snide peanut chucking from the gallery. We could do better. I could do better . But there’s no value in moaning about the poor quality of something if one is not willing or able to try it themselves – a philosophy I maintain towards all creative pursuits. So there it was, a reason to get out and see more theatre (not that I needed one) and write about theatre, and meet more theatre-makers, all rolled into one measly complaint. What could possibly go wrong?
Similar voices of dissatisfaction with review culture have been raised in the past year or so, not least of which at the Wheeler Centre forum “Critical Failure” – covering everything from the influence of the publicity industry over who or what gets reviewed and when to the general dumbing down of the mainstream media – in a series of forums with established writers such as Gideon Haigh, Alison Croggon and Adrian Martin discussed their respective fields of Literature, Theatre and Film and the lacklustre sheen of the cultural conversation surrounding them. An excellent set of talks which establish my gripes and go further in far more eloquent ways than a mere hobbyist as myself ever could. It turned out that despite appearances I wasn’t just some raving crank – we needed a better set of standards for public conversations about art; and the fourth estate is dragging the chain.
And then it happened. I chalked up a dud review; warm with praise, but lacking depth, insight and worst of all: reeking of pretension. In my desire to say something noteworthy I referenced Nietzsche, prattled on about ensemble work and effectively said nothing at all about what I had seen, how it made me feel, what it meant to me. Which is a shame, because the production was one that stayed with me for a long time. A month after writing and publishing this insipid piece I was still reliving little moments and thinking about how the play related to me, in my struggles, in my life. The best productions take time for the dust to settle, and that’s why I shouldn’t be too harsh on critics in the current fast-turnaround-limited-wordspace world of journalism. It’s the editors and advertisers who really should go up against the wall, when you think about it… weeks of work and they expect us to care about 400 words scrambled up overnight in response? Not Bloody Likely.
So a change of pace for Critic Watch this year; I have been monitoring trends and have decided to inaugurate the BI-ANNUAL MUDSKIPPER AWARDS. A more lighthearted take on critical blunders and generally poor writing to be found in the wide web and beyond. For example:
The award for “Most Inane Descriptive Sound Bite Stated Without Irony” goes to Channel Nine’s Denholm Hitchcock for his sparkling praise of Colin Firth’s performance in The King’s Speech as (I kid you not) “very believable”. Thanks Denholm. You’re an inspiration to us all.
Nominations are still open until the end of the month as I prepare the shortlist. Any or all suggestions are welcome! Let me know who you reckon helped no-one understand anything about the work with their unmotivational droning… mediocrity deserves a reward!
other categories open for nomination are as follows.
Most Convoluted Plot Summary
Most Obscure Pop-Culture Reference
Most Unabashedly Hateful Review
and a special category invented just for anyone who reviewed The Social Network and like everybody else, was full of nothing but praise:
Grandest Public Delusion
Alternatively just make up your own.. It’s fun!