Do You Know Your Customer?

SurfingWhat Publishing Can Learn From Kodak

Part 2 of 3

This week we’re looking at things the publishing industry can learn from the decline of Eastman Kodak Co. Yesterday we started with the importance of knowing our business. Today – three more lessons from Kodak. What insight can we gain about knowing our customer?

4. We can acknowledge that the consumer has considerable impact on the market.

Traditionally, advertising and marketing have been focused on “creating a need” in the consumer, and then filling the need. You convince people they want something, then you sell it to them.

While that dynamic is still in play, there’s been a power shift in favor of the consumer. People know they’re not beholden to giant conglomerates to get what they want. They realize they have control—they can make their own movies on YouTube, distribute music through iTunes, they can create apps, they can publish books. Consumers don’t have to wait around for a big company to spoon-feed them.

They also wield their freedom of choice unflinchingly. There’s little brand loyalty. If a company isn’t giving them what they want, they’ll go somewhere else.

For us, this means we must pay attention to the hard data on what our customers are buying, what they want, what they don’t want, and where their attention is. We should be watching how things are trending to try and project what our customers will want in a year, or five years or ten years. The customer will get what they want, whether we provide it, or someone else does.

Will we provide what they want, how they want it, available for purchase where they want to buy, for a price they’ll pay? Or will we step aside and let someone else do that?

5. We shouldn’t underestimate the public’s willingness to adapt to new ways of doing things.

In the past, people were slow to adapt to new technologies. But we live in a time where new technology is a given—there is no longer a general expectation that things will stay the same for very long. People are open to “the next new thing”—but they’re discerning about what they adopt. The new thing must be perceived as either superior to the old, or equal to the old but for a lower price, or preferably both.

Kodak didn’t pay enough attention to the new ways people were interacting with their photos, assuming that people would always want physical photos. (And who could blame them?) They couldn’t foresee the degree to which photo-sharing via cellphones and the Internet would become a major way people connect with each other, and they didn’t give their customers credit for adapting to a whole new dynamic where photos were concerned.

Sure, many people still print out a few photos and put them in an album; we all have family portraits on our walls, and there’s a subculture of old-style scrapbooking. But all of that is a tiny fraction of the major ways photos are now used—as a social tool. (Pinterest, anyone?)

It may seem like the general public’s adoption of digital book technology is going slowly, but it’s not. Surely you’ve noticed how many people say, “I swore I’d never use an e-reader, but once I got one, I can’t live without it. I’d never go back to paper books.”

So let’s not over-estimate how long printed books are going to continue to be the major portion of our business. Right now they seem to still be around 75-80% of sales. But in five years, I think it will be exactly the opposite: 20% paper, 80% digital. And the way people interact with books—the way they define books—is bound to change. Will they become more social and interactive like photos have?

6. Focus on consumers’ needs and wants, rather than the perpetuation of our own products and business models.

This is the logical extension of the previous two points. Apparently Kodak operated on a model that assumed marketing was about selling products to consumers, rather than providing consumers with what they want and need. They relied on consumers continuing to want to print their photos. They didn’t adapt to the new marketplace and consumers’ new attitudes. They were product-oriented, not people-oriented.

If we want to continue into the future successfully, we (publishers, agents, authors) will focus more on our readers and how to stay relevant to their needs. (We can’t continue to think of the retailer as our only customer.) We must NOT expend energy trying to stop the tide of change, but instead figure out how to surf the waves of change, staying right ahead of that curl. (I’m not sure how a surfing metaphor got into this post!) It’s not about physical books and physical bookstores; it’s about connecting authors with readers in the way that our readers want.

Consider that Pinterest’s mission statement says: “Our goal is to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.” I wonder if we should be thinking towards connecting everyone in the world through the written word.

Some questions for you:

• What does your customer want these days that’s different from what they wanted five years ago?

• Are you surprised at how quickly people adapt to new technologies? What do you think this new adaptiveness means for writers, agents, and publishers?

Tomorrow: Are We Ready For Change?

Yesterday’s post: Do You Know What Business You’re In?


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  2. […] Tomorrow: What We Can Learn From Kodak About Knowing our Customer […]

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  4. Industry News-February 22 » RWA-WF on February 23, 2012 at 3:21 AM

    […] Industry Can Learn from Kodak.” It’s a must-read. Find Part I here. Then proceed to Part II. And don’t miss Part […]

  5. Are We Ready for Change? | Rachelle Gardner on February 15, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    […] Part 2: Do You Know Your Customer? […]

  6. LC on February 14, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    In this new disintermediated world of story-selling, we face the same major problem we had in the old world — not getting published (there was always some way to do that), but getting the product sold. It may become easier than ever to create a story, but connecting authors and readers is still hard and getting harder every day.

    I feel pretty safe in saying that most authors are not master marketers. The marketing and authorial skill sets have very little overlap. The entire publicity system is built around the presence of a few big players. How does the typical author get the digital equivalent of a Kirkus review? How does he/she score the digital equivalent to an endcap display on Amazon or Can an author get that NPR interview on his/her own? Really? Without this kind of publicity, how will readers know a story exists to be read among the millions of others?

    The revolution won’t have begun until this infrastructure exists to support authors and not just publishing houses. Note that Facebook and blogging and tweeting are not an infrastructure; they are tools, and like any other specialized tools, require specialized expertise to use effectively. Customers may not be waiting for a big corporation to spoon-feed them, but they still need to know where else to go to get what they want, or even to know what they want.

    • Rocky Lewis on February 15, 2012 at 10:02 AM

      Perhaps, LC, or perhaps your top down model of thinking about infastructure, of pushing product out to people who need guidance, is the very paradigm in question.

      What if readers, with an interest in what you have to say, find you in a splintered vertical market system? Yes NYT Best Sellers might become a thing of the past as would the POP style end cap purchase by a Barnes and Noble fiction browser. But in a “Flat” world the whole game changes.

      Perhaps the shift has already begun and is what is placing today’s demand on authors to become master marketers. Will authors have to remain master marketers to tell and sell story? Perhaps. But I think, at some point, smaller vertical players (conglomeration platforms of sorts) will come to the rescue. I suspect by genre or topic.

      But, I disagree that the revolution won’t begin without infastructure. It has begun. It’s just not being televised. 😉

      • LC on February 15, 2012 at 2:37 PM

        Until those smaller vertical players emerge or something else happens to replace the current marketing machine, we as authors aren’t any better off than we were before we learned to spell Kindle.

        As things stand now, e-pubbing is just a faster, less expensive form of “subsidy publishing” unless you’re blessed with the imprimatur of a major imprint. Just as a few lucky (or hellishly driven) souls managed to make money with their self-published paper books, a tiny number of people have managed to make a lot of money and noise with their self-published ebooks. That doesn’t mean anything to the rest of us yet.

        If, as you say, the revolution has already begun, then right now it’s between two small elites in a far-distant province called New York. It won’t be until the structures exist to get our stories noticed in an organized and accessible way that the fruits of that revolution will finally come to the rest of us.

  7. Emmly Jane on February 14, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    Consumers today are more than ever expecting instant gratification. We (including myself here) do not wait for software as technology companies can provide you a link to download it instantly. We cannot even wait to check out e-mail or twitter account because everything is available while we are driving down the freeway going 70 MPH… not I do not recommend this; that is just how the world is adapting.

    It may be because I still have a day job which is in the technology industry but the people I interact with in and out of work crave new technology. The faster; the better! And the majority of them are willing to pay for it even in these economically difficult times. We want it so badly that look at all the options companies provide for us to pre-order before the product is even officially available to purchase.

    As an aspiring writer, am I willing to submit my work for review to a publishing house and/or an agent knowing that it will likely take months before hearing back from them? Then, if accepted you have months of waiting for the actual published work to be complete, a book created, and a release date set. I am not saying this is not the way to go. I am only saying that right now, I don’t know.

    As for gatekeeping to help ensure only the best work goes out to the community, don’t consumers have the right to make the decision for themselves? I believe an Indie writer does have that responsibility to their readers. Beyond that ethical code, why not let the consumers decide. Amazon makes the first 10% of any digital book available so if you are not eager to hit that “buy” button second you wrap up that 10% whether because of a weak storyline or typos, move on and you’ve lost nothing.

    How many books have I purchased over the year that were published by a reputable company and I never read past the first few chapters? It’s Valentine’s Day so I would rather not go down that path of wasted funds

  8. BK Jackson on February 14, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    RE: “there’s little brand loyalty”

    I’d like to add, not just with relation to books that many consumers WANT to be loyal to a brand, but more often these days, the company behind the brand leaves the consumer with little reason to be loyal.

  9. Michelle Lim on February 14, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    Social Media and Technology drives the market with more current trends. As authors we will have to roll with it, to be ready for the new technology and stay current in our story research as well as story focus. Good news, more people will have access to our novels. Downside, there is a glut of material out there to compete with, so we will have to be unique.

  10. Why Do We Cling To Books? « Think Kid, Think! on February 14, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    […] The Slider » Why Do We Cling To Books? Okay, I don’t know what Rachelle has planned for Part 3, but her analogy relating Eastman Kodak’s demise to the current state of the book publishing […]

  11. Ed DeCaria on February 14, 2012 at 1:09 PM

    Okay, I don’t know what you have planned for Part 3, but this may be the most well-packaged point of view I’ve read on the pub business in years.


    As a writer, why the hell do I even want to formally pursue publishing?

    If readers don’t care about “books”, why should I?

    Why even trust e-books as some new endpoint? Why stop there?

    Is there a better, and more profitable, way to reach an audience than books?

    I’d like to make a living — in the age of free, what are people actually willing to pay for?

    You say this is a business of storytelling. Is it? Are you sure it isn’t the business of laughter inducement? Tear-jerking? Pulse-raising? Button-pushing? Thought provocation? Seriously, does anyone really care if Harry kills Voldemort? Or do we only care about how WE will feel if/when it happens?

    I write kids’ poetry. How many better ways can I think of to sell and distribute poems in a low-attention, instant consumption world than in a static collection that takes years to write and publish? Probably dozens! Hundreds!

    Why is “publishing” the end all be all of a writer’s existence? I don’t need a book. I need readers. I don’t even need “readers”. I need people. To read, sure, but to listen, watch, play, push, print, touch, feel, tear it in half, tell a friend, tweet it, retweet it, re-write it, do WHATEVER THEY WANT TO DO with it.

    The book is now the most limited form imaginable.

    Why do we cling to it?


    • Mary on February 24, 2012 at 9:58 PM

      Great questions and thoughts, Ed. This is a big one:
      I’d like to make a living — in the age of free, what are people actually willing to pay for?
      I once did make a living writing news, paid for by advertisers of other products. I would like to earn money for the fiction I write. I don’t expect to make a million, but I also don’t want to work for free.

  12. CG Blake on February 14, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    Great post, Rachelle. With regard to 5 people will adopt technology but only if it is user friendly. That is why iTunes became so huge. While I agree writers must keep their audiences in mind, what should writers do when their genre is not a popular one? I write family sagas, which is not a hot genre. I couldn’t write YA or Christian fiction. It wouldn’t come across as authentic. I guess a good strategy is to understand my market and develop ways to reach it. Thanks again.

  13. Joan Cimyotte on February 14, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    One thing is that all rejected writers can get published. It’s a lotto ticket. The odds are against us. Thank you Rachelle for providing the information we need for whatever path we take to get published. I’m learning the platform thing. I have 3 blogs. The third blog is devoted to getting “Miner’s Pass” published. I want to talk about the things I’ve learned and my experiences along with elements of my novel. I can’t help thinking that there is an audience for my story. It has to be all about connecting.

  14. Susan Bourgeois on February 14, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    I think it’s important to attempt to learn how to utilize the many resources we have in today’s world.

    It’s not cute to say, I don’t want to learn how to Twitter. I don’t like displaying parts of my life on Facebook, etc.

    I’m not the best at any of this but I do know how to Twitter. I have had a nice blog.

    I am going to open my mind in a new way from this point on. I must take time to further explore these areas to the fullest.

    If we are to be successful in our writing careers to the fullest extent, we must be open-minded about using all of these areas to market our endeavors.

    If necessary, for those of us who are challenged in these areas, we must take classes, research or ask our children for assistance.

    Many people who have the resources hire professionals to assist them in keeping up-to-date or ahead of the game in these areas.

    These areas can no longer be brushed off as something we can’t do because we don’t know how or we’re too old to learn new things.

    They’re now a part of life and a huge part of the world of writers, agents and publishers.

    Thanks again Rachelle for providing me with additional insight.

    C’est la vie!

  15. Stephen King on February 14, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    Excellent posts, Rachelle. I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

    I’ve done my own analysis a few times over on my blog last month and the month before, where I ranted a bit about “those silly booksellers” and how they’re doing some of the very same things that, in my posts, the electronics retailers did, and in yours, Kodak did.

    What does my customer want these days that’s different from what they wanted five years ago? Well, readers have always wanted a well-told story. Some, though, now want it in a format that will go on an e-reader. Some want it in real book format. Some don’t care which format it comes in.

    Pricing expectations have gone haywire these days, as some readers still expect to pay the prices of yesterday for good stories while others have adjusted to the new reality that e-books have significantly lower cost of production and thus–um, “should”? “might”? “do”?–cost less.

    All that said, though, readers still for the most part expect what they’ve always expected–a well-told story.

  16. Rocky Lewis on February 14, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    I think there is one unmentioned threat right now coming from new giants — Kobo, Amazon, Hyperink. I believe they will redefine “traditional” by working with individual authors more efficiently.

    One of the ways traditional publishers and agents respond to industry change is by saying: “We bring value as a quality clearing house. We are gatekeepers for quality writing.”

    I think this is true, however, there is a big problem with this defense. They rely on an inefficient strategy for gate keeping. If they do not change how they filter quality, if they do not speed up, they will be crushed by the likes of Amazon.

    Hyperink is already trolling online for non-fiction authors with great platforms and followers and then offering those authors contracts based on their online writing and obvious reader loyalty. What if this becomes the norm for fiction? That model could replace months of my query sending and your query sifting, followed by months of a committee determining an author’s viability, place in the list, and ability to market.

    Instead an editor at Amazon could find an author online, read their pdf proposal and sample on their site, gauge reader loyalty and then offer that author a shared profit contract in exchange for editing, digital distribution and print on demand services.

    No matter how all this shakes out, my job as a writer stays the same. Build a following of readers and write engaging, quality work.

    • Ian on February 14, 2012 at 9:58 PM


      I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for saving me the time of posting it myself. 🙂

  17. Julia Reffner on February 14, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    As a local, we’ve watched this one play out over the years. By the time Kodak made a slow attempt to jump on the bandwagon it was too little, too late.

    It really re-emphasizes the need to “keep learning” constantly, whether it be about marketing or anything else. We need to be “flexadaptable” as a friend of mine calls it and to be proactive about our own career.

  18. Susan Bourgeois on February 14, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    I am writing romance in today’s world. My customer would like for me to include up-to-date technology, fashion and everything else that has advanced from five years ago.

    My customer wants me to know the needs of today’s women and men. Think about the changes that take place over time with online dating sites. This type of technology changes rapidly over time.

    Then there are things that don’t change, the basic need for love. The search for romance. The pain of heartache. Matters of the heart don’t change to any great degree and haven’t since the beginning of time. This too is an important part of meeting my customer’s needs.

    No, I am not suprised at how rapidly things change. It’s to be expected. We need to attempt keep abreast of these changes and try to keep a pulse on these changes so that we won’t be left behind.

    The best way to do this is to take time to read news articles. By reading articles and listening to what happens on the news we can begin to notice trends. We can gather a sense of direction as to which trends we should pay close attention.

    We need to think in a diversified manner. That’s what successful business people do. They don’t sit on success. They keep their eyes and ears wide open so that they will be ready to move in a new direction if necessary.

    My daughter, who recently went back to college for an additional degree after 13 years, told me that there will be no books used in her classes by the year 2013. What does that tell us?

    Just recently, I saw a segment on the news where there is an experimental e-book library that has been received well.

    I foresee a cost-effective device that anyone can use that projects contents in an enlarged manner from a book or TV to any location (wall or ceiling) they choose.

    Can you imagine relaxing in bed or a hot tub and with the click of a button being able to project a large display from a great book you’re reading or a new movie you want to watch?

    It has already been done in the movies, which is another area we may able to spot trends.

    We never fully know what’s being invented or about ready to be introduced to the mass market, so we have to keep an open mind as well as a keen eye.

  19. Donna Pyle on February 14, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Again, right on point, Rachelle! For the most part, consumers are tech savvy and willing to spend the extra time to navigate websites get what they want at the value they deem appropriate. My Bible studies are now available by PDF download, where they weren’t 5 years ago. I still get orders for hard copies, but the vast majority order for immediate download. Moving with technological advances, or better yet anticipatig them, keeps us relevant to our consumers. Well said!

  20. Michael Mulligan on February 14, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    My favorite part of your post is the surfing metaphor,a great visual picture of how to handle change.

  21. Wendy Paine Miller on February 14, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    I happen to like that the surfing metaphor made it in. Sounds mighty fine right now.

    Excellent questions and such a reminder how important it is for authors to be open to what readers are seeking. Listening. Paying attention. Those will never grow old in this business (in any business for that matter).

    Makes me excited that book clubs are forming based on all kinds of interests. I’ve even just recently heard there are Pinterest clubs forming. It all fascinates me. And I’m paying attention.

    ~ Wendy

  22. Shelly Goodman Wright on February 14, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    I think social media is going to be a HUGE part in reaching the new generation. I was talking with a lady in my writing group about writing YA and at the mention on Facebook, she cringed. My first thought was, “well maybe you shouldn’t write YA.”

    I also know many writers who feel they shouldn’t have to market themselves. They believe this is the publishers job. But if they don’t step up to the plate, they will be left standing alone in a corner of a bookstore, while those who are networking and working the social media have followers excited to meet the person they’ve been following on FB.

    As usual, great post and the link worked the first time. 🙂