Ciao, amici! Today, I’m going to throw some industry buzzwords at you and talk about churn rate and transmedia storytelling (which I’m sure you figured out already because of the title) and how we can lower the first by increasing the second.
Churn rate is the speed at which someone moves on to the next thing. In our industry, it’s how fast a reader gets tired of our work and moves on to another book or author.
Transmedia storytelling is the technique of telling a single story across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies.
In today’s market, churn rate is high, which is bad for creators. There are roughly 2,000,000 books published each year, which equates to nearly 5,500 a day. Can you read that many books a day? And those are new titles. All the existing books you haven’t read aren’t going away. These 5,500 books are adding to what’s already out there.
With such fierce competition and with practically limitless options, readers no longer have a reason to slog through a book they aren’t enjoying. In fact, they no longer have a reason to give an author more than a page or two of their attention before settling in for the journey or looking for a better alternative.
In short, churn rate in our industry is high. There are too many options for readers to be patient with an author. It’s one of the many reasons the slow-burn style of the classics has all but gone away. Attention spans have shortened while alternatives have proliferated.
Ah, attention spans. We need to look at that term a little more closely.
In my parents’ generation, readers didn’t have multimedia options. People who enjoyed books read books. Not ebooks. Books. End of discussion. Listening to audiobooks? Podcasts about popular fiction franchises? My parents didn’t even have that kind of technology at their disposal. And they wouldn’t have used it if they did.
My generation has the technology, though a lot of us resist embracing it.
Then, there’s my kids’ generation, and the generations coming after them. These readers aren’t even what my parents would call “readers” at all. They’re fiction consumers. Sure, they read books. But they also read ebooks. And they listen to books (while they do something else). They watch or listen to podcasts about fiction franchises they enjoy. They watch shows or movies based on their favorite books. They attend conventions. They play video games. They go to theme parks where they can ride rides, watch shows, and interact with characters and props.
They’re into multimedia. No, more than that, they’re into transmedia.
As creators, we want to lower churn rate. We want readers so in love with our work, they not only refuse to move on until they’ve consumed everything, they become brand evangelists for us. We’re looking for the super fans who post about us on social media and talk about us at work and at home. They seek out our autographs and collect series swag and do more marketing via good will and word of mouth than we could ever pay for.
This is a point that bears repeating. MARKETING is using these platforms to promote your work. It’s utilitarian. TRANSMEDIA promotes your book through story. It’s consumable. Transmedia enables you to extend your franchise in an interactive manner that readers will enjoy.
For these super fans, the churn rate is low. And there’s often a direct correlation between lower churn rate and an author who has embraced transmedia.
The Inverse Relationship:
I’m not suggesting the only way to lower your churn rate is to embrace transmedia. What I am saying is there is a direct relationship between the two. When transmedia increases, churn rate decreases.
Let’s look at an example.
An author (let’s call her Frannie) writes a cozy mystery series with a romance element. Something like Murder, She Wrote meets Hart of Dixie. Her main character owns a winery and a bed and breakfast, has a flirtatious relationship with the handyman that makes every reader wonder “will they or won’t they?” and for some reason, murders keep happening in and around her property. She Jessica Fletchers the crimes, solving them before the police do, and the handyman is always there to keep her safe.
Middle-aged women devour these stories, and Frannie sells enough to feel good about herself and keep her closet full of new shoes. Readers even email or post on Facebook (the only social media platform Frannie looks at) that they want more. They probably post on other social media platforms, too, but she has no idea.
As it happens, Frannie owns a bed and breakfast on a vineyard. It’s where she got the idea for her series. So, she runs a special during the Grape Festival and advertises online that one lucky reader who enters the contest can stay in the Merlot Room for a ridiculously low rate and will receive a gift basket full of her books.
The contest is off the charts, which helps build her email list. Nice. A fan books the room, gets an autograph. Is delighted. Win-win, right?
As soon as the fan sees her room and talks with Frannie, she leaves the B&B and spends the day at the festival.
Sure, she might enjoy the gift basket of autographed books and maybe posts a picture online with her and Frannie in front of the sign that says “Merlot Room,” but that’s it. Frannie doesn’t see any uptick in sales. The fan doesn’t even spend time at the B&B, so she isn’t buying anything there. Frannie actually loses money on the deal because she rented the room at a very low rate and she gave away ten autographed hardcover books.
That, my friends, is marketing. Often good for good will, but profit is another story. (No, I’m not saying marketing won’t sell books. But just because you market doesn’t mean you will sell anything.)
So, what could Frannie have done differently? Let’s look at a different example.
This time, Frannie rents multiple rooms at the B&B. Each of them is filled with a basket of food the B&B is known for, including recipe cards for her guests to take home. She also gives them her vineyard’s best sellers—a bottle of white and a bottle of red. (Anyone else singing Billy Joel right now?) Empty spots in the basket are stuffed with candles and soaps referenced in the books as signature scents at the B&B.
Now guests/readers/fans have something to interact with. They have snacks, they have wine, they have candles and soaps. Better than the first example. But is it enough? Does it continue the cozy mystery story that Frannie writes and that they love?
No. Not yet. We’re not quite there. So, what more can Frannie do?
She dramatically encourages her guests to explore the room and the B&B. Her words are cryptic, almost ominous. So, her fans’ curiosities get piqued. And they look around. They find a magazine with letters cut out of it. Then they notice the Bible (every room always has a Bible, right?) has a letter “hidden” in it from the killer. It’s only partially complete, made of the cut-out letters from the chopped-up magazine. Because it’s not finished, the guests don’t know who the victim is or why that person’s a target. Maybe they find a journal the killer wrote stuffed under the mattress. Behind a painting on the wall is a “murder board” of the next hit the killer plans. There could even be clues in the common areas of the B&B. Enough that the guests immerse themselves in the game and don’t leave for the Grape Festival. They spend the weekend buying food at the B&B and searching for clues in room after room, talking to the staff and LIVING the murder mystery game.
Is that marketing? No. That’s transmedia come to life. It’s an interactive experience that takes readers on a real-world journey based on the fictional world they love.
I’m willing to bet none of you owns a B&B on a winery. If you do, try out this strategy and let us know how it goes.
But for the rest of us, what can we do? We likely don’t have J.K. Rowling’s funds and connections, so we’re not getting video games made and full sections of Universal Studios devoted to our brand. How can we, on limited funds and time, use transmedia to our advantage? How can we extend our story experience between novel releases?
- Post short stories in our series world free on our websites. Just a little something to keep readers engaged with the characters and settings until the next novel drops.
- Include character interviews in our newsletters. Let fans know some of the interesting backstory that never quite makes it into the books.
- Write about a musician? Or even reference music in your stories? Compile a playlist and share it with fans.
- Are you artistic? Draw scenes from your books and share them with fans.
- Have your work set somewhere beautiful or fanciful? Post pictures or sketches of the setting, maybe even format a few of them like travel guides and sell them as a compendium. Make it gorgeous; something true fans would want to collect.
- Understand computer stuff? (And how’s that for a technical term? Clearly, I don’t understand “computer stuff.”) Consider creating a companion web series or a digital graphic novel.
- Have a Facebook Live event (or a different platform) and give away swag as you talk with your super fans.
Millions of options and a glut of media makes churn rate faster than ever. To slow (or ideally stop) a reader from putting your work down in favor of another, you want to
- hook them fast
- hook them well
- write tight
- create an innovative, unpredictable story
- continue to offer engaging content between releases
The goal is to offer as many VALUABLE interactions as possible. Think beyond marketing. Transmedia promotion is all about STORY, as that’s why your readers came to you in the first place.
What about you? Have you ever tried to elevate your marketing to story-based transmedia? Or can you think of ways to do it now? Let’s talk about it.