Whether you write to sell, invite, entice, or provoke, your words can’t do their job unless the audience sees them. In professional writing, distribution is everything. The availability of new electronic distribution technologies only increases the opportunities — and the challenges — for reaching them.
Here are two interesting recent articles on the intersection of writing and distribution, with significant implications for writers:
“Briefing: Panic in the music industry” from The Week Daily explores concerns over the potential collapse of traditional record labels as musicians increasingly turn to alternative and independent means of distributing their music. Although the article characterizes this as “cutting out the middleman,” it can be more accurately described as seeking out new middlemen whose distribution channels are more innovative and/or accommodating to musicians and listeners alike. Streaming audio stations, concert promoters, and even chain stores have established their own distribution chains that compete directly with traditional labels.
Writers are asking, “why can’t we apply this model to writing?” Print on demand, e-books, podcasts, and blogs are increasingly impacting sales, circulation, and revenue across the publishing spectrum. Like the music industry, today’s publishing industry is fundamentally dependent on traditional distribution channels for its traditional forms of published material. To survive, they will have to change and adapt, and many have embarked on ventures into new media in an effort to remain “relevant” — today’s buzzword-compliant euphemism for “profitable.”
The Week Daily article advises music companies to find new ways to sell music through emerging distribution channels such as Apple’s iTunes Store and even free downloads. They should, according to the article, take “a more ‘holistic’ approach, tapping all kinds of revenue sources” and “re-create themselves as full-service firms that can help recording artists produce revenue in the form of CDs and downloads, concert tickets, merchandising, and licensing fees from movies and television, advertising, and mobile-phone ringtones.”
Likewise, writers can help their publishers identify creative ways to repackage and distribute their words to existing and new audiences. The indispensable Tom Chandler of The Copywriter Underground addresses this issue in “Are Writers Really The ‘First Drafts of Human Beings?’ (or, What Copywriters Should Learn From the Hollywood Writerâ€™s Strike).” As Chandler notes,
“Hollywoodâ€™s writers face many of the same issues you face. Namely, how do you get paid for everything you do? Are you truly compensated for the value you deliver? Is your copy working harder for your client, but making you less money than it did five years ago?”
He describes, by way of example, how 15 years ago a marketing case study would likely be published as a printed piece and maybe reprinted as a press release — and then reach the end of its useful life. Today, a similar docment can be converted into a wide variety of formats and made available via websites, e-mail, RSS feeds, podcasts — you name it.
At the same time, as the Hollywood writers’ strike demonstrates, the studios and their distributors can’t afford to consider new distribution channels as “royalty-free zones.” Writers have skin in the game, too — no matter where the game is being played.
Writers need to write with innovative distribution opportunities in mind, and publishers need to exploit such opportunities to keep everyone — creators and audience alike — happy. And a savvy freelancer knows how to transform distribution opportunities into additional revenue.
For freelance writers, then, new tricks can mean new treats.