So far there has been some fantastic feedback on my earlier post about occult economics (which was borne out of the ongoing discussions around elders and money).
Some great people have made a number of points that I really want to address. At first, I was going to open this post by asking whether we, as a loosely affiliated community, should draw a line under the money discussion.
But I’m not going to, because I don’t think we should. It’s emerged that we’re just not very good at talking about money. More than anything, this lack of openness is possibly a key contributing factor to some of the systemic economic malfunctions across the wider occult sphere. Instead, let’s talk more about it. Maybe not just in the blogosphere but where ever good magical folk gather.
And so without very more more ado, here are the pertinent subsections of the Rune Soup 5 Laws of Occult Economics.
1.1 Locate value where there is margin
Kenaz made some valid points in response to my idea that books are affected by price moving to the marginal cost of production. He correctly points out that books do indeed have fixed costs which can never approach zero.
Which means I need to clarify what I mean by ‘cost of production’ in this case. (I made a go of it in the comments on his post which you can also check out.)
Unfortunately for creative folk, the ‘cost of production’ for information products (which is what books are) is measured further along the distribution chain; principally in the commissioning of manuscripts and the actual printing of physical products.
Now a physical book is just a distribution mechanism. It’s not the actual ‘idea’ printed on it. In the past, publishers could locate margin in the production and sale of physical products because there was such a high economic barrier to entry: It was extremely expensive to build, run and maintain your own printing facility as well as transport your physical products to the limited number of distribution points. What was printed on them was almost beside the point.
This kept competition down which kept margins high. Replace ‘printing press’ with ‘vinyl/CD press’ and you have the same historic business model for the music industry. Which was why it, too, used to be obscenely profitable.
Trouble is, the printing and distribution of physical products can be politely considered “a business model in transition”. This is caused by two things:
- A simultaneous reduction in printing costs (China) and an explosion of distribution points (Walmart, airports, drug stores, train stations, the internet). This led to more competition and more price pressure. Most large retailers sell books at a loss to entice people into the store where they can hit them up for products that actually have a margin. It’s called loss-leading.
- A much more efficient delivery mechanism for information products has emerged.
If they’re not already, Jason’s books will soon be available for a pittance on Steve Jobs’s infernal glowing rectangle, your phone, your TV and your lame-ass Paris Hilton Nokia watch/phone thingy. Jason is my go-to example for this because I really think his business is the best/most visible model for ‘relocating the value of information products’. Sorry, Jason. I’ll pick on someone else next time. But if you check the comments on the 5 Laws post you’ll see we’re in broad agreement on this.
Now… Brutha ain’t retiring to Como on no 99c book sales.
But… The number of readers/consumers of his information products will likely increase dramatically. I’m going to call this the Rune Soup Newspaper Paradox. (Because I paid for a .com domain name, I’m going to slap it on everything.)
Newspapers are in the exact same situation. Thanks to the internet, they have more readers than they have ever had in their history. But they are making less money.
A Real World Example from History
Seth Godin asks an interesting question in the Bootstrapper’s Bible. “How many of the great railroad companies got into the airline business?”
When commercial aircraft arrived they started eating into the passenger train companies’ market because they had a faster, cheaper solution to a business need: getting from one place to another.
Now. What business are passenger train companies in? Are they:
- In the business of moving their customers from where they are to where they want to go?
- In the business of building and laying train track?
They made the mistake of choosing door number two and -as a result- the commercial airlines completely obliterated them.
So, is an author:
- In the business of delivering information products in such a way as to locate margin somewhere along the audience relationship?
- In the business of moving bundles of paper around?
1.2 Hyperbole has no place in Occult Economic Law
In the comments, Jason pulled me up on some frankly pretty caustic occult stereotypical descriptions that I seem to have sprinkled liberally throughout the last post.
These descriptions were intended to exaggerate the contrast between the majority of occult customers and the potential goldmine waiting to be tapped in the corporate sphere -which I go on to outline.
But it certainly reads in a much more mean-spirited way than I actually intended. So that’s my bad. And I’ll fix it.
Like Discovery Channel say; “I love the whole world.” If they had said “don’t drink and blog late into the night” then the post would have come out different.
4.1 Familes are always rising and falling in America
Back in my freewheeling Bohemian days, I used to travel all over New Zealand in a clapped-out Honda with my then-flatmate who was a market trader. She sold jewellery she designed and made herself. I’d assist. (With the selling. Jewellery design? Please. I’m homosexual enough as it is.)
Now, she made what people would buy. At NZ $85 dollars, her wonderful paua shell necklaces just weren’t moving. People don’t spend that much at markets.
So she made bracelets. Or necklaces with less paua shell (which is expensive).
She might have got a bit sick of churning out the same thing over and over… But she was still a jewellery designer.
Let’s bring this back to the origin of these wider economic discussions: Elders.
Consider the position of some of these elders versus the financial situation of that Harpy Millionairess who created The Secret. (I know that title is absolute flame-bait, so please be kind!) But it’s a series of books, DVDs, retreats and merchandise: See all that value she located?
Can we actually make this comparison? Well, we can if we crudely measure the ‘ gross volume of help delivered’. This is still a chaos magic blog. I’m all about real world, measurable results.
So when it comes to elders, this is just how markets work. Some people win. Some people don’t.
Have they been selling necklaces when people have been buying bracelets?
5.1 Hoarding gold turns you into a wraith
Your information product probably has broader appeal than you might initially think. In the comments, Diana mentioned that she’d use a couple of the laws while working out what to do with her own book.
Now, she’s been open about what she’s writing probably because she hasn’t made the rookie mistake of thinking that someone is going to somehow ‘steal’ her idea.
(Rookies: At any one time there are dozens of people independently working on the exact same idea as you. So relax. Having the idea isn’t the hard bit. Writing it is. Besides, competing titles are actually a good thing. It means there is probably a market for what you are selling. It’s up to you to be the best in the market.)
Diana -if you’re reading this- I hope you don’t mind me using you as an example because I think it’s a good one. Diana’s getting to the pointy end of a book about divorce from a Wiccan perspective.
I like this. But if it were one of my development projects in my day job, here’s what I would look at: Half of American marriages end in divorce. That’s an enormous market.
- A collection of broad-appeal women’s magazine articles giving advice from a witch (!) to recently separated women. Editors will like this because there will be a whiff of black magic and cursing about it. (But it’s Wiccan so there won’t be any. Nice twist.)
- Springboard off the articles into a broad-appeal book on divorce advice from a witch. (Potential agents will like your track record in article publishing and the unique angle. I can see the cover already: A cartoon silhouette of a witch on a bright pink background. It’s Carrie Bradshaw meets Harry Potter.)
- Time a January launch to capitalize on the Anti-Valentine’s news cycle (“Boo love! Valentine’s sucks!” etc) that is now the most prominent media feature of the holiday. This should be good for at least one HI/breakfast TV spot, some radio and newspaper magazine pieces.
- Get some sort of basic qualification to run weekend workshops. Make it so the woman going through the separation can bring a friend because it will be the friend that suggests attending in the first place. Something around reclaiming your power but without the obvious lesbian overtones.
- A series of niche books that specifically target the Pagan/Wiccan community.
Yes. I work in a silly industry. I’m aware of this. But see what happens when you start to think about sharing your gold? You probably have an idea you could work work up in a similar way. That’s the easy part. Delivering on it is the challenge. But it always pays to be pointing in the right direction when you start down the long road of delivery.
5.2 Agreeing with Chris Anderson is mandatory
If you are even thinking about commercializing your occult practices, I must insist that you allocate an hour of “me time” and watch the video embedded in the original post.
Chris is awesome. I want to keep him in a little box in my spare room and subject him to an endless stream of questions.
5.3 Don’t shoot Hermes
Do I wish things were different? Sure. I wish a lotta things were different. For instance, I’d love an extra couple of inches… Of height. (Boom!)
But here is what I said to Lupa:
Business, like diplomacy, is “the art of the possible”, not the preferable.