In early March my eleventh book A Dog Year; Twelve Months, Four Dogs and Me was published by Random House/Villard. For several months I've been working on a bottom-up, Net-based marketing program that permits me to push my own book in my own way, rather than rely on big publishing or big media. That led me to the banner ad on this site a lot of you have seen and e-mailed me about. So why am I buying a banner ad, on Slashdot of all places, to tout my new book about a year with four dogs? It's a chance for me to tick off the yowling hordes, which is always fun. Some will shriek that a dog saga has little to do with open source, technology or selling things on the Net. But it does, and I'm happy -- eager, even -- to explain why.
My reason for advertising here, too, is that I believe the Net offers the best place for individual entrepreneurs of all kinds -- writers, game creators, artists, musicians, software designers -- to skirt conventional costs, limitations and marketing practices and find their own audiences. To me, that's a big part of the "open" in open source. Younger people raised on the Net don't pay nearly as much attention to mainstream media as their elders, so we have to reach them where they are. The good news is that we can.
In fact, Net communications themselves have become increasingly segmented and targeted. Much has become subterranean, centered on mailing lists, IM and other limited-entry venues. In the weeks before my book's publication, I concentrated on these grass-roots venues, contacting websites, subscribing to mailing lists, e-mailing excerpts of my book to people who were interested. People on special interests lists and chat rooms don't mind being pitched on subjects they're interested in. They don't consider it spam. What they hate is being bombarded with messages for things they don't care about, which is what traditional media does. Besides which, I can't afford to take an ad out in Time magazine or on the ABC Evening News.
Elsewhere, individual entrepreneurs and creators find it more and more difficult to survive. The megacorporations who've taken over much of culture and media are primarily interested in best-selling mega-products -- Britney Spears, John Grisham -- not idiosyncratic ones like mine. They have a point, too. My last book found its own audience, or rather its audience found it. It did all right, but didn't sell much beyond it's core audience. To successfully market a book like Running To The Mountain or A Dog Year (at least in the conventional way) could cost more money than my publisher expects to earn. And interesting, I believe the Running To The Mountain excerpt that ran on Slashdot sold more books than a subsequent appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.
The Net, at least in theory, can bypass that stalemate and create radical new opportunities for artists of all kinds. So I don't mind paying for my own ad. I think it has worked.
Individuals are under attack all across our culture, from the likes of Microsoft and Wal-Mart and Sony to publishing conglomerates. The Net can be a way out for people like me (us), whether we're telling the story of our dogs or coming up with new software. What's why I bought a banner on Slashdot. If it works, it could sell some books, sure. I have no apologies to make for that. But it could also help demonstrate to writers and other people struggling to survive in a mass-market world that the Open Source idea is only fractionally about software. It's about individualism, free expression, and a culture open to us all.