Book Review: Now is Gone

When I got back into the office from a trip to The Garden State a couple weeks ago there on my desk was a package. Hmmm, I thought. I’d already gotten this month’s Bloggers Gone Wild: Spring Break WOOOO!!! Edition VHS and everyone I know had already tried to assassinate me. So I was curious to see what was inside.

To my pleasant surprise I found it to be a copy of Now is Gone by Geoff Livingston with Brian Solis. The book purports to be a “primer” for executives to acclimate themselves to the new media world and figure out, if they already haven’t, how to create effective marketing relationships in that world. Livingston places heavy emphasis on the idea of relationships, saying time and time again that they are what needs to be focused on and not traditional marketing. Not only because doing so allows you as a marketer to know what people are saying, but it gives the people formerly known as the audience the sense that they are participating in the success of a company or product that they feel an affinity for.

The strongest point Livingston makes in the book is that it’s not enough to just take your existing marketing and put it on the web. It needs to be high-quality, appropriate for the people you’re trying to reach and delivered on a platform that they are already using. The combination of those three things may not insure your marketing efforts will be successful, but it gives those efforts a better chance of not blowing up in your face.

If there’s one thing that I took issue with in Now is Gone, it’s Livingston’s tendency to paint things as definitively right or wrong or to characterize the social media world as if it operated with a single collective conscious. At one point Livingston warns public relations practitioners that if they send out a heads-up to bloggers and that pitch does not result in the story being written up then it’s a failure and they need to scrap the entire program since it’s obviously not adding value to the larger community.

While I agree that PR people should approach bloggers carefully (that’s why it helps to have someone who knows the community and that language) and that pitches need to be individually crafted to make the story as valuable to the blogger as possible I don’t think failure to achieve pick-up is a sign of a bad program. I get pitches all the time that aren’t that attractive to me, but sometimes that’s just because I’m in a bad or just funky mood. Since blogging is so highly personal – even if I’m not blogging about personal matters – sometimes I just can’t get excited about a story that would normally be right up my alley. Bloggers are moody, something that occasionally renders any hard and fast rules about engagement moot.

Considering that Livingston is aiming at the higher levels of the org chart with who he’s trying to speak to the book does succeed more often than it doesn’t at making its points. Marketing in the social media-powered world of 2007 is not like marketing as few as 10 years ago. The rules are different because the balance of power is shifting, the risks are higher and the demands even more demanding.

While there are points of view in Now is Gone I don’t exactly agree with, it is worth picking up and reading. It’s just like reading anything else. There are things I completely agree with and others I don’t, but when it’s all been tallied up it does add something to the conversation. I’d rather read something and disagree with the author than read something and have no opinion. I think that can be said of just about everything in my RSS list as well as my book shelf.

Quick Takes: 11/24/07

  • filmstrip.jpgVariety has a profile piece up about Peggy Siegal who is, apparently, an incredibly in-demand publicity person in New York City when it comes to films. Seigal specializes in organizing parties, screenings and other events for the studios to help raise the buzz-o-meter on specialty films that might be flying under the radar of large portions of the public.
  • Warner Bros. is hoping that being audience-pleasing will make up for August Rush’s lack of easy marketing hook. The movie has reportedly been doing well at screenings but still suffers from the fact that not many people may know about it or be able to draw the line between “that looks nice” and actually buying the ticket.
  • CK uses the story in the movie Lars and the Real Girl to make a point about the power of community to embrace someone they love and see past their eccentricities to make them feel welcome.
  • CinemaBlend says Disney has begun promoting Bolt, an animated feature about a dog who thinks he has super powers, at its theme park gift shops.
  • Defamer kindly reminds Facebook users that should they decide to add things like DVD rental queues or movie ticket buying applications to their profiles, they risk showing everyone just what stupid movies they’re actually choosing to watch.

 

Blockbuster testing $1 rental kiosks

blockbuster.jpgIt makes complete sense to me that Blockbuster would want to get into the DVD kiosk business. The chain is apparently doing just that, testing a handful of kiosks in Papa John’s pizza places and Dollar Store locations in Kentucky. The DVD rentals cost just $1, the same price other kiosk operators charge, and discs can be returned to any Blockbuster kiosk, not just the one the movie was rented from.

Blockbuster right now is looking for ways to increase revenue and cut costs. The $1 price point comes not only from the competition but from the fact that kiosks require little in the way of overhead. You’re paying more or less just for the movie and not for the store lighting, employee wages and floorspace rental.

The next logical step, of course, is kiosks that are connected to a high-speed central server that allow you to burn any movie on demand. That takes the concept from one that can only supply the top couple hundred titles (no room for the Long Tail when space is a premium) to one that could satisfy just about anyone’s impulse purchase desires.

I know some testing along these lines has been done by others but Blockbuster, despite all its problems, has the name recognition to take that ball and run with it.

Sharing

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday I wanted to highlight what I’m thankful for online. The biggest thing is the roster of people whose stuff I read everyday. I could try to list them here but it would take all day.

Unlike some other movie writers, I spend a fair amount of my time reading marketing sites and blogs since that is not only interesting to me but it’s the world I work in. And unlike a number of marketing writers, I read a bunch of movie sites since that’s interesting to me. The mix of those worlds is what make Movie Marketing Madness what it is and it would be a poorer site without it.

So instead of just a list I decided to share here an OPML file of my RSS reading list. I purged it of some personal and work-related stuff, but other than this this is a compilation of all 588 feeds I skim through daily. If you use RSS you can download this file and it this in to your reader of choice. If you’re not hooked into RSS I encourage you to watch the video below, “RSS in Plain English” from CommonCraft.

google-reader-subscriptions1.xml

Happy Thanksgiving to you all,

–Chris

The distruptive emergence of a new entertainment model

staringatscreen1.jpgPatrick Goldstein has a great article up in the Los Angeles Times in which he foresees a not-too-distant future where writes-producers realize they don’t actually need the studios to bankroll their visions. Instead, he predicts, they will find the freedom of internet distribution alluring and create their own media brands (much like bloggers of all stripes already have) and bring content directly to consumers.

This model is already in place on a small scale with sites like FunnyorDie, which serves as an outlet for all the smaller, more experimental things some celebrities just want to throw out there to see what sticks. And Ed Burns is releasing his movie Purple Flowers through iTunes, a move he says is kind of necessary considering the sad state of arthouse cinema in 2007, where movies are dying that would have succeeded much more in the mid-90s.

Goldstein rightly surmises that real change in the entertainment industry is going to come from people trying new things and seeing what succeeds and not from trying to squeeze money out of the studios. He points to Silicon Valley as an example of the mindset that’s needed since it’s full of cases where instead of trying to change the culture or business model of, say, Microsoft, people set out on their own and built the web as we know it today.

Steve Bryant takes Goldstein’s thesis and says that while his argument is spot on for distribution the issue of marketing the content is still a significant one. Without the financial resources of a large corporation this sort of self-generated content won’t be able to find an audience.

I both agree and disagree with Bryant’s concerns. On the one hand he’s right that big campaigns are needed to support any sort of mass scale production. On the other, I think it’s just a matter of time before niche studios or individual creators find a way to connect with the potential audience using things like Flickr, Ning, blogging and other social media tools. It’s not that hard, especially not if you spend a little bit of time creating relationships beforehand with the online audience.

Personally I don’t think it’s the individual talent that will decide to ditch the studios first. I think instead it will be the production houses that will realize they don’t need distribution partners but can instead sell their shows and movies directly to consumers online. Why sell the movie to a studio who’s going to flub the marketing and distribution when the production entity can go straight to the audience?

When that happens you’ll start to see some innovative marketing that has to be both low-cost and niche-targeted since that’s how survival will be achieved. You’ll also start to see the same sort of pricing that’s currently in place on Amazon, where the production house isn’t concerned with selling 20,000 downloads of one product but with selling 2,000 downloads of 20 products.

And it’s when that happens that you’ll start to see studios get a lot more accommodating with what they offer talent in the form of compensation.

Quick Takes: 11/21/07

  • filmstrip.jpgStudios are anticipating a slate of high-profile – and therefore expensive to buy up – movies to be scheduled for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. A schedule heavy with movie-star movies could bring out major studios, not just buyers from the smaller studios.
  • Universal is partnering with VUDU to make the entire Jason Bourne trilogy of movies available for home viewing through VUDU’s downloading service beginning December 11th.
  • Adam Rifkin’s treatise on the surveillance culture Look gets profiled with an interview with the director over at Newsweek.
  • Whitney at Pop Candy points to an EW list of 15 trailers that made people cry. If you substitute “cry” with “die a little inside” I’m right there with the people who submitted these.
  • ComingSoon has a TV spot for Rambo. I guess this is really happening.
  • The heads of four major studios are urging the FCC to drop the idea of regulating the cable industry, saying such intervention could do more harm than good.
  • European regulators have banned two TV spots for Shoot ‘Em Up over concerns they glorify gun play.

Watchmen mini-movies coming

watchmen1030.jpgCHUD is reporting that Watchmen director Zach Snyder plans on shooting some of the graphic novel’s “aside” stories as separate films. The idea, of course, is to satisfy fans of the book who would likely be upset – and vocally so – at those aspects of the story being dropped from the film.

This is a great idea but let me take it one step further. These movies should be released in advance of the feature film for free through iTunes in much the same way Hotel Chevalier was released prior to The Darjeeling Limited.

Doing that would be a great promotional opportunity for the movie, giving fans a taste of what’s to come and something to later incorporate into their movie experience. The story says the “Black Freighter” story may come out on DVD the same time the movie hits theaters but I don’t think that goes far enough. Make it a digital download as well and I think the studio will get much more excitement brewed up.