Wednesday, 2 December 2009

"It's a magical world, Hobbes..."

For every avid fan of Twitter and Facebook, there seems to be an equally vociferous social-media sceptic. This little case study should give the doubters reason to reconsider.

A few months back one of my favourite blogs, the Comics Curmudgeon, briefly mentioned an upcoming book about one of the best comic strips in the history of the medium, "Calvin and Hobbes". Author Nevin Martell was offering everyone who emailed him a free copy of the first chapter of his book, Looking for Calvin and Hobbes. I emailed, and several weeks later received my free chapter.

I wasn’t the only one. In an interview with the Robot 6 blog on the Comic Book Resources website, Martell said that more than 4,000 people requested the chapter. “My publishers told me that super successful versions of this kind of promotion in the past had garnered a couple of hundred requests. But then the offer got written up by BoingBoing and NPR, not to mention a slew of comic-related blogs and the Twittersphere, so suddenly I had hundreds of requests pouring in.” The success of the promotion spawned additional blog posts and articles, which in turn generated more publicity for the book.

Martell doesn’t have a deep-pocketed publishing house behind him (if such a thing as a deep-pocketed publishing house even exists anymore). And because his book appeals to a niche market, he wisely targeted niche websites with his offer. In fact, for all that pundits have said that ecommerce levels the playing field for smaller merchants, because of the lower cost of entry and whatnot, I think that social media have levelled the field even more (except, of course, that a field cannot be levelled “more”—it’s either level or it’s not. But I digress…).

Let’s say you sell something niche like pig collectibles (don’t laugh—I used to have an extensive collection of porcine novelties… okay, laugh if you must). Ten years ago you would have had to target general collectibles magazines and forums to promote your products. Now after just a few minutes online you can find websites, Facebook groups, newsletters, and the like for pig owners, pig fanciers, and yes, collectors of pig memorabilia. By setting up a blog on your ecommerce site, linking to other relevant sites, and striking up relationships with other bloggers, you could home in on pig fans without wasting resources reaching out to, say, guinea pig collectors or casting a wider, costlier, and perhaps unprofitable net to include collectibles buyers in general.

And people who participate in niche hobbies are, judging from anecdotal evidence, more engaged with social media than those favouring more-mainstream pursuits. Those of us who are really interested in something as fairly specialised as comic strips or pig figurines or Bronteana (hey, I have very catholic tastes) are usually so excited to come upon others sharing our same arcane hobby that we email and post and forward relevant links with virtually no encouragement.

Which is one reason I've included links to both Martell's book and the Comics Curmudgeon site in this post.--SC

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