Cinnabar Bridge

February 13, 2009

Context matters

Filed under: books,marketing | sales — phwebnet @ 5:28 pm
Tags: , , ,

My president’s letter for the BAIPA News [January 2009]

I read an article the other day about a fine classical musician playing his Stradivarius violin in the subway in Washington DC during rush hour. The experiment, by the Washington Post, was filmed to see what would happen.

The violinist, Joshua Bell, played for 43 minutes while 1097 people passed by. The environment he was playing in was at the top of some escalators with a shoeshine stand and a busy kiosk selling lottery tickets, magazines and newspapers nearby. Nothing happened for three minutes – when someone actually looked at him playing. He got his first donation soon after. No one even stopped to listen until six minutes had passed. In all, seven people stopped to listen for at last one minute — 7 out of 1097. Less than 1%.

He collected $52.16 ($20 from the one person who recognized him) compared to the more than $1000 per minute he can command for playing in concert halls. Out of 1097 people who walked by, 27 gave money, 7 stopped to listen and 1 recognized the musician.

What was going on? What, you might ask, does this have to do with my book or my publishing company? It has to do with context and where you play your music, where you promote your books. Joshua Bell was playing music people expect to hear in a totally different environment – the subway was not his usual venue and the audience was not his usual one and the energy, the expectations were completely off-kilter.

The marketing terms for talking about these issues might include target audience (who do you want to hear your pitch, your music), the medium (where do you want this message to be placed – magazine or bookstore) and overall context – who is doing what where when they see or hear your message.

These are important issues to consider when you are looking at your options. Are you going to spend time being interviewed by a radio host whose audience is interested in romance novels and you are selling a book about business? Are you going to spend time speaking to a workshop full of dreamers when you are selling tax advice? Or are you standing in a subway playing classical music to a distracted audience during rush hour?

It’s fascinating really to think about what environment you want to be in, which ones will work better for you, where your music will be heard the way you want someone to hear it. You might think everyone will buy your book and that it appeals to everyone under all circumstances. I guarantee you, that is not the case. Even if your book is truly important to the survival of the planet, there will be those who, even if interested, won’t get your message – because they won’t know of it, because they won’t hear it the way you think you’ve said it, because the place or time or associations with the book will connect your book to something they don’t like. You can’t please everyone, so don’t expect to. But you can often control the context in which some will find out about you.

If the subway is the right place, go for it. But if it isn’t, find the right context – it matters.

Article link:


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: