Sunday, May 29, 2011

The America Idol Publishing Effect

by: Joelle Charbonneau

American Idol is now going into its 11th season. While I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually watched an entire episode of the show, I admit that I’ve been paying attention to the impact it has had on the performing community. I’m a performer. I sing. I act. To not admit that American Idol has an impact on the music and theater industry is to bury ones head in the sand.

When American Idol launched the country went wild over the contestants. Every member of the top 10 received offers for recording contracts, Broadway gigs, movies and guest star appearances on popular TV shows. And heck, you didn’t need to be in the top 10 to get noticed. Just having AMERICAN IDOL Top 30 contestant after your name was enough to get high-powered managers and studio heads to pick up the phone. SCORE! That trend continued with season 2 and the American Idol craze kept fans glued to their television screens. More Broadway and touring contracts. More TV sitcom appearances. Season 3 and 4 the trend continued. If you had American Idol contestant after your name, you were guaranteed attention – attention theater performers and musicians that had been struggling for years couldn’t get.

So it isn’t surprising that professional musicians and music theater performers started attending Idol auditions in droves. They weren’t interested in winning the whole shebang – although they wouldn’t have turned down the adulation. They wanted the American Idol Finalist title to help get them noticed. Hell – all sorts of Idol contestants were headlining Broadway shows not because they were the most talented choice, but because they were a name that the public understood. American Idol had become the greatest platform for music and theater of all time.

There were 30 contestants on air that first season. 36 that are listed on the website from season 2. All in all there are now over 300 performers that can claim the tagline of American Idol final contestant. And most of them can no longer get anyone to answer their phone calls.

Why? Because the novelty has worn off. The platform has become commonplace and doesn’t sell tickets at the Broadway box office the way it once did. American Idol still racks in the ratings, but beyond that, the American Idol tag doesn’t open up doors the way it once did.

So why am I talking about this? More than once on this blog we’ve talked about self-publishing. We’ve talked price point, quality, the fact that it is right for some and not for others. Hey – self-publishing and more specific E-self-publishing has become a way of life for a lot of authors. Some authors have made careers in the past couple of years out of telling other authors that traditional publishing is for the weak and the stupid and that the only way to be in charge of your own career is to self-publish. They say it is the only way to really make money. Those E-self-publishing giants are the Season 1-3 American Idol contestants. They are the ones that have garnered huge notice. They are the ones beating the drums. They have blogs and speaking engagements that help other authors follow in their path. They have been yelling about revolution. They are the ones that – (drum roll please) - have in recent weeks and months bailed from self-publishing.

In the last two plus weeks, Amazon has announced they are opening their own TRADITIONAL publishing house complete with acquisition editors. They plan on offering both electronic and print versions of their books. They are paying advances and royalties. And many of the American Idol E-publishing giants of the early seasons are getting on this new ride.

Why? Well, I guess only they can answer that. But I have only to look at American Idol to see that their platform – electronic-E-self-publishing author – is one that they now share with thousands and thousands of other authors. So now they have created a new platform – traditionally published Amazon authors. Yes – self-published and traditionally published alike will still be published by Amazon, but who do you think will get more notice? Which authors do you think Amazon will be touting? Who will have doors opened to them and which authors will be stuck thinking they have broken through the barriers only to find that no one cares?

As far as I can tell – Amazon has just created a new reality show. (Kind of like the new show THE VOICE) While the old show might not lose popularity, the contestants are just a means to an end. They’ll make money off of that horse until it can’t run any more. And why not? They don’t have to lift a finger to make that money. But I’m betting they lift more than a finger for this new adventure and for the stars that made their self-publishing venture the hit of the nation.

What does that mean for publishing as a whole or for those out there who are self-publishing via Amazon now? Hell if I know. But I do know that those who have rode that now very crowded platform to great heights are getting off and climbing onto another ride. It’ll be interesting to see where it takes them.


Dave White said...

Interesting comparison, Joelle. I can't speak much on American Idol, as I've never watched more than 3 minutes of the show. The e-book boom is going to be like everything else. It's popular right now, but at some point it's going to explode and then settle back down. The people who are going to get hurt by that are the people who don't put thought into their work, and just want to go the easy route.

People expect to see an attention to detail. People who get poor reviews, don't create good covers, don't write good back cover copy, and don't promote wisely are going to disappear. They'll complain and say it's for reasons that have nothing to do with their work, but it'll happen. Consumers will catch on to the trickery.

Where I think it'll succeed, hope it'll continue to succeed, will be much like how American Idol has succeeded. The runners-up. Second place usually finds success. The mid-list author who no longer can get a publishing deal but has always been well-reviewed, the traditionally published author who wants to put out a piece of work that's a little different. Those people.

Most of us want to be traditionally published. And the ones who are put in the work. Right now I'm going the alternate route, but hope to get back to the traditional route at some point as well. (There's nothing wrong with wanting both, right?)

I just hope in the end I become more like--I can't believe I'm going to type this--Carrie Underwood rather than William Hung.

Dave White said...

Follow up: Basically the good stuff will rise up and succeed, the bad will go away. Just like everything else....

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Dave - even the First Place contestants are having a hard time getting people to really care who they are anymore. It's kind of interesting that the show continues to suceed, but the contestants don't. But I agree that attention to detail is important and YES! We all hope the good stuff is the stuff that rises to the top. Now - the question becomes, what will that be?

Dave White said...

I think the biggest difference is people are less and less interested in the TV show. I guess this year was highly rated, because of the new judges, but didn't the past few years suffer from really poor ratings?

If no one's watching, then a show can't survive.

Right now people are checking out inexpensive books on the Kindle. Sure, it's going to be harder and harder to find things as the market gets oversaturated, but the interest in books (especially at the price they're offered) isn't going to go away as quickly as the interest in a TV show.

And, considering there are judges, it can be argue American Idol is more like traditional publishing (in a good way) than self-publishing. The judges keep the garbage out--for the most part. And they let the good stuff--again, for the most part--in.

Barna W. Donovan said...

Good points, Joelle - as usual - about some of the hard truths writers need to accept and deal with. And excellent point from Dave about the judges on American Idol.

Although I've never watched an entire episode of Idol from beginning to end, I think became aware of it for the same reason so many other people did: Simon Cowell and his nasty insulting of the contestants.

Perhaps what will eventually happen to the e-publishing and self-publishing movement is that readers will realize how much publishing needs its Simon Cowells. I'm already running across a lot of reader feedbacks to self-published books on where folks are saying that it's no wonder most of these books never found a mainstream publisher to back them...they just stink! And sure, not everyone who does not get a publishing deal is a talentless hack. There are plenty of people with good ideas that are just not commercial or don't reach the proper agent/editor who for whatever subjective reason might fall in love with it. Nevertheless, the e-market will, no doubt, soon be overwhelmed by all the literary versions of William Hung. Readers will want to know that the material they are about to invest some time and money in has been screened by some sort of a gate-keeping process.

Anonymous said...

This American Idol - Amazon comparison doesn't hold a lot of water.

Amazon has had a traditional publishing house for two years, complete with acquisitions editors. I think what you're referring to is their announcement of Thomas & Mercer, their Mystery and Thriller line and fifth imprint.

The only imprint they have that's connected to their DTP e-self publishing program is Amazonencore, but even with that imprint, the majority of their books come from the Breakthrough Novel Contest and not from the self publishing ranks.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Barna - HA! I don't know if publishing really needs Simon, but I get what you're saying. I've heard a lot of readers say they used to try lots of new self-e-pubbed authors because they were cheap, but that a great number of those purchases weren't well written or well edited. Those readers feel burned and many have stopped buying new self-e-pubbed authors. I guess time will tell if that will become a real trrend.

Anonymous - While I appreciate your comment, I think you might have missed the point I was making in comparing the two. I was discussing the uniqueness of platform and that it is easy to stand out when you aren't in a crowd. The minute the platform becomes crowded it is much easier to jump to another platform that is less crowded.

And while I believe Amazon did "publish" before - no one really considered them a traditional publisher. I know their new genre lines - which have begun with the romance and the mystery imprints - are being touted by them as something completely different. You just have to look at all the BEA news to see that these are a new style of publishing for them complete with new offices (that they currently are looking for real estate on) and a new staff. Time will only tell how well it will work for them.

Mary Marvella said...

I think everyone made excellent points. I'm trying the Idol way myself with a self published novella. I have several stories I believe some readers would enjoy.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

This post keeps popping in my mind since I read it a few days ago. What American Idol brought to the peons in the world is the base of the American Dream in real time, with hype.

We have seen that the public wants reality shows. Nonfiction narrative is a reality show and so are blogs, that is why I love blogs so much, blogs are self published, and as successful as they are petted.

But let's face it:

Can you read your kindle in the bath tub and fall asleep to wake up and see it floating on top of the water? Can you teach a child to read with a kindle?

Nothing beats a book.