Report – Clever Content: How Does Digital Open up New Revenue Streams for Authors

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Words by Chris Russell, photos by Nicole Kavanaugh.

February’s Byte The Book brought together Crystal Mahey-Morgan of Own It Entertainment, Helen McGinn of The Knackered Mothers’ Wine Club, “Mr Byte-The-Book” himself Daniel Solomons and co-founder of Sorted Food Jamie Spafford to discuss the brave new(ish) world of digital, and how it can be exploited to increase revenue for authors. The event was chaired by the impossibly debonair Tom Chatfield, a writer and broadcaster best known for his book How To Thrive In The Digital Age.

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Our fabulous sponsors for the February were ALCS (The Authors Licensing and Collecting Society). In the literary frow, Maureen Duffy and Jonathan Fryer, and behind from right to left, Alison Baxter  Barbara Hayes and Katie Webb.

Crystal opened the floor, urging authors to think of their work as “stories” rather than “books”. This philosophy is at the bedrock of Crystal’s company, Own It Entertainment, a “storytelling lifestyle brand” which reaches a variety of audiences by presenting stories in innovative, cross-platform ways. She has, for instance, printed stories on T-shirts, and has found that customers who buy the shirts often go on to buy the book as well, thus flipping the traditional book-to-merchandise trajectory on its head.

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Justine Solomons welcoming the crowd and introducing, from left to right, the chair, Tom Chatfield and his panel, Jamie Spafford, Helen McGinn,Crystal Mahey-Morgan and Daniel Solomons.

Daniel, who works at Google Digital Academy as Head Of Delivery, expanded on this topic by emphasising the importance of audience. “The power has shifted from artist to audience”, he explained, quoting David Bowie, and the secret to success is in discovering who your audience is, and nurturing them. This would have been virtually impossible before the advent of digital, but now, authors can mine precise data about their readers and tailor their content accordingly. In short, said Daniel, “data is the new oil”.

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Another packed event and lots of listening, tweeting and learning going on.

The importance of conversation was another core theme of the evening. Jamie Spafford, co-founder of wildly popular online cooking channel Sorted Food, stressed that he and his colleagues know far, far less about cooking than their audience do, and that’s part of the fun. “Nothing is a finished article until the community have had their say,” he explained, describing Sorted as “a cooking channel run by people who don’t know how to cook”. Content, he concluded, is conversation, and vice versa. Conversation builds relationships, relationship build communities – and communities spread the word.

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Tom masterfully leading the discussion

Helen McGinn of The Knackered Mothers’ Wine Club echoed that sentiment, revealing that taking directly to her audience – and finding out specifically what they want from her content – has been instrumental in building her business in recent years. TKMWC, which grew organically from a casual wine blog into an award-winning brand and best-selling book, owes its success partly to Helen’s willingness to engage with other members of the wine tribe. “Be authentic,” she advised, when connecting with your community. Join in conversations, add value, support your peers. You’ll soon build up a network which will, in time, form the foundation of your readership.

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But the real star of the night was Maureen Duffy, seen here again with Jonathan Fryer, Maureen was once described by Rose Tremain as “one of the most honourable and interesting writers we have.” 

One audience tweet in particular, from Byte The Book regular Derek Farrell, threw an interesting light on the evening: Amazing how so much huge success starts as We wanted to have a conversation with friends. Then the circle of friends grows. An appropriate lesson for the digital age, perhaps, when so much time is spent staring at a screen. At the end of the day, when it comes to storytelling, it’s still human connections that matter.

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