Thanks to Alan Jacobs’s Pinboard feed I just read this excellent essay by Paul Ford, called “The Web is a Customer Service Medium.” The title is accurate in its way, but not very evocative. Ford has articulated something profound about the nature of the internet, a thought that I’ve run across in several other contexts lately as I’ve studied the new landscape for music and books.
If I had time, I’d wrap the following quotation from Ford in an essay of my own. Maybe I’ll do that soon. In the meantime, think about this passage, and if it intrigues you take some time to read the essay it comes from. I think you’ll learn a couple of things about the new reality which the web has created.
Create a service experience around what you publish and sell. Whatever “customer service” means when it comes to books and authors, figure it out and do it. Do it in partnership with your readers. Turn your readers into members. Not visitors, not subscribers; you want members.
And then don’t just consult them, but give them tools to consult amongst themselves. These things are cheap and easy now if you hire one or two smart people instead of a large consultancy. Define what the boundaries are in your community and punish transgressors without fear of losing a sale.
Then, if your product is good, you’ll sell things. (Don’t count on your fellow Gutenbourgeois to buy things. They’re clicking the little thumb icon on YouTube like everyone else.) If you don’t want to do that then just find niche communities who might conceivably care about your products and buy great ad placements. It’s a better online spend.