Keep going if you’ve heard this one:
“If you can spend $4 on a cup of coffee at Starbucks why can’t you spend $4 on an ebook?”
Or this one:
“Support local/indie/self-published authors! Write a review!”
Perhaps because I have many author friends,1 I see many of these shareable slogans, often with stock photos of coffee, libraries, or reading devices.
Every time I have either scrolled past them, unaffected, or else felt mild annoyance.
Then it dawned on me why the slogans don’t work for me or even cause opposite reactions.
Even better, I think I know how indie authors can fix this. More on that in my next article.
The other sorts of “marketing” I’ll call audience-shaming. It doesn’t work for me because:
1. I am selfish.
Maybe Christians ought not think this way. But right or wrong, when it comes to books and stories, I’m not a generous soul. I’m a consumer. Almost a materialist. Sinful? Maybe, and if so then I must work on that. But for now, let us not be sentimental. Let us recognize reality.
2. I’m a defensive consumer.
If I go to an auto dealership, I don’t go with eyes wide at all the beautiful vehicles that gleam under fluttering flags. I go with my shields up and “JUST LOOKING FOR NOW, THANK YOU” phasers set to maximum.
If a salesperson pitches a particular car, I will listen politely. But I’ll still be defensive.
What if a salesperson “shamed” me about a particular car? “You would spend $20,000 on a house down payment but not on this vehicle? Don’t you want to support local dealerships?”
Well, I might not leave right away, but I will feel amused.
3. I like known coffee better than unknown ebooks.
I’ll shoot straight here, folks: Yes, I will spend $4 on a Starbucks coffee, not every day or week, but perhaps once every three months. And I will only rarely spend the same on an unknown e-book for $3.99. Here’s why.2
- I like coffee better. I did not even touch it until after college, but now we are friends.
- Coffee gives me good feelings. It usually makes me feel better. I like feeling better.
- Coffee has both aesthetic and practical benefit. Coffee tastes good, especially with flavored creamers. (I’ve tried Taking it Black to be cool. Can’t.) That’s aesthetic. Coffee also has magical powers that help clear drowsiness and help me work. That’s practical.
Indie author audience-shaming slogans accidentally do the exact opposite of these:
- The slogans don’t make me (right or wrong) feel friendly. They make me feel more like I’ve been asked to bathe a dog or clean a toilet—a necessary chore, but still a chore.
- They don’t make me feel good. They make me feel bad. Yes, sometimes it’s good to feel bad. For example, the Gospel should sometimes make us feel bad because we’re rebels against God who need to perform the unpleasant yet vital chore of repentance. But an ebook should, in theory, be about enjoyment and skillful storytelling, not Convictions.
- They don’t promise aesthetic or practical benefit. If anything, they imply the rather off-putting notion that I ought to take time or spend money on something that is entirely for the benefit of someone else. Again, this may be necessary. Christians show their faith by caring for others, especially the needy. But aren’t “the needy” more like elderly/sick people at church, or children who need water in Africa? The marketing seems to clash. It says, “Support me. I am really needy. But I’m still able to tell you a good story.” I think, “Either you are really needy, or you are a great storyteller, but you cannot be both.”
4. Shops like Starbucks worked hard for success.
Starbucks has done much to add value to their coffee experience.
- Starbucks invests. Few of us knew about Starbucks before it was cool. The Seattle-based franchise began with one store in 1971. Then its investors poured millions of dollars into ads, marketing, and new stores. That’s 40-plus years of failure and success.
- Starbucks tells a story. Brief economics lesson here: The company’s coffee has “added value” because of brand awareness and the “story” Starbucks tells. It’s a positive, catchy lifestyle “story” in which cool/smart/fun people hang out at Starbucks coffee shops to read, flirt, think, date, hang out, study, pursue dreams, or even engineer Social Justice. This isn’t unfair or suspicious. It’s capitalism + culture + risk + time = profit and success.
- Starbucks has proven good feelings/memories. I bought my first Starbucks drink during a New Attitude conference in 2006 in Louisville, Kentucky. Then I heard Justin Taylor give an excellent presentation on the “emerging church” (remember that label?). That was a good feeling/memory. I also recall my sister-in-law, Rosie—she worked at Starbucks—buying my wife and me hot salted caramel mochas. We were heading to the Smoky Mountains for a vacation in December 2012. That’s a great memory. And a Starbucks beverage became associated with it. Good trick, Starbucks, but it worked.
Now I’ll leave my questions open:
- Do (or can) authors invest in their “products” with business partners over 40 years?
- Do authors strive to create a “story” about the experiences they promise?
- Do authors work to provoke good feelings/memories in potential fans?
I’m no marketing pro. But I do know what marketing works better on me. And—at the risk of being too negative here!—I’ll expand on these thoughts more positively next week.
For now, I’m off to enjoy coffee and an ebook.
- I do not recall who shares these slogans, so I’m not blaming anyone. Also, I’m not (yet?) an author myself, so I cannot imagine the sorts of frustrations that lead to these slogans. Feel free to share your story below. ↩
- After my idea for this article, I found a similar post at The-Digital-Reader.com. It’s more negative and less personal than this attempt. ↩