Can ArtistShare Do For Writers What It Did For Musicians? -- Writer Devra Hall launches SnapSizzleBop.com
With limited distribution options and lack of promotion afforded to all but the biggest stars, it is no wonder that artists are reevaluating their options and taking control. The climate in publishing, with a mainstream mass-market focus embracing only the sure-thing, leaves little room for books by not-so-famous authors about not-so-famous people. Devra Hall, author of Men, Women, and Girl Singers" is writing a biography of Luther Henderson, once known as Duke Ellington's 'classical arm," Lena Horne's musical director, and the man behind the music of many Broadway shows. Hall finally found an academic press willing to publish the book but unwilling to pay out an advance. So what is a writer to do?
I'm going straight to the readers," says Hall. The value of niche markets (as set forth in Chris Anderson's The Long Tail) not withstanding, there's no room at the inn of traditional publishing for writers like me. But I know there is a market out there."
Hall is the first writer to launch an ArtistShare web site, following in the footsteps of her one-time client, composer Maria Schneider, embracing a new concept in Internet marketing and distribution. Three years ago this month Schneider's website became the prototype for ArtistShare, a company pioneering industry change with a patent-pending process of creating art directly through an artist's fan base. Maria has been wildly successful with this model. Her Concert in the Garden recording was not only funded by her fans, but it won a Grammy without ever entering the usual distribution channels," recalls Hall. Today, ArtistShare has empowered more than three dozen musical artists. Conceptually, it's a model that should work well for writers too.
ArtistShare is neither a record label nor a publishing company; it is a technology company pioneering patent-pending web-based tools that enable an artist in any medium to finance new projects by sharing the creative process with fans from the outset. The concept is based on a new paradigm. Online stores" from which you can order products to be shipped to your door and web sites from which you can download recordings and electronic books may be innovations," but they are only variations on the old retail business model; ArtistShare is different.
One of the key components is what ArtistShare calls the Participant Offer." By fostering the involvement of fans, sharing the process, customers become participants who are privy to varying levels of behind-the-scenes exposure. In this model the customary end product, such as a music CD or a book, turns out to be a by-product, while the sharing of the artistic process becomes the primary product - a product that is experienced over time as it evolves. The behind- the-scenes exposure is provided by media events such as streaming audio and video clips of interviews and meetings, photo galleries showing Hall at work or images from her research, perhaps a pdf peek at the first draft of a chapter or an audio discussion about how to handle bias, and journal entries about her activities. Another perk at certain levels is the participant listing - for example, the placement of the participant's name in the book's dedication and/ort acknowledgements and ancillary press materials.
Because participation in the process is now the product, what might have been viewed as pre-sales now becomes the source of funding for a project. Hall's first ArtistShare project is People on the Page, part behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of writing a biography, part memoir of her life as a writer and the issues with which she grapples as a biographer, and part exploration of what readers and writers of biographies think about, with insights from several colleagues including Walt Harrington, Doug Ramsey, Terry Teachout, and William Zinsser. Because Hall is using her work on the Luther Henderson biography as content for her ArtistShare project, People On The Page participants, in effect, will be supporting both endeavors.
By offering varying levels of participation, an artist can target specific groups of fans. In Hall's case this includes the average reader of biographies, the avid biography lover, fellow writers (established and aspiring), and patrons who believe in the importance of documenting history and supporting the arts. When it comes to the artwork, itself, ArtistShare has pioneered another new concept they call Artist-Track, an idea that elevates what once might have been a common CD or book to the status of a collector's item, complete with hologram, artist's signature, and number. Not only does this increase the value of the item, but also by tracking ownership, the artist is able to collect residual income on the resale of an item.
While Hall's biography in progress, Seeking Harmony: The Life and Music of Luther Henderson," will ultimately be published by Scarecrow Press, probably two years from now, People On The Page will be sold only through SnapSizzleBop.com with a limited physical pressing; when those are sold out, only downloads will be available.
Hall's People on the Page project is one of three projects set to launch at SnapSizzleBop.com. The other two are The Inside Story, Clairdee's 2007 jazz recording project produced by Marty & Jay Ashby, and At The Feet of a Jazz Master, a soft-cover coffee-table book with photos by Leroy Hamilton and text by Devra Hall, sharing the current thoughts and wisdom of NEA Jazz Master John Levy, the jazz bassist turned talent manager.