Is A Fan A ‘Quantified Reader’?

Image - iStockphoto: MonkeyBusinessImages
Image – iStockphoto: MonkeyBusinessImages

Michael Bhaskar: ‘Fans are critical to what it means to be a publisher today’

Historically, publishing meant amplification. “Making stuff available,” Canelo Publishing’s Michael Bhaskar told our Berlin audience.

Putting something into print was enough to amplify it. But actually, now, on the Internet, when everything can be made available automatically, simply having stuff available is no longer amplifying. It’s just hiding it on the Internet. I would argue now that what constitutes publishing is about building audiences. The very core of publishing now has to be about finding readers, building audiences.

“And that is a key change in the whole nature of what publishers do, what they’re about, why we exist” in publishing, Bhaskar said.

The meaning of publishing has changed. People like fans are critical to what it means to be a publisher today.

Bhaskar might well have been warming up for the keynote address with which he opened the 2015 Digital Book Conference on 27 May at BookExpo America in New York. I’d invited him to give a talk titled “Setting the Stage: The Customer as Curator” because his forthcoming book from Little, Brown UK will try to do for the contemporary idea of curation what his 2013 book, The Content Machine(Anthem), did for publishing in digital times: offer context.  You can read more about his talk and the conference here, in ‘Putting Readers First’ At BEA: Gatekeepers, Curators, And Too Many Books.

At Klopotek’s Publishers’ Forum in Berlin a month earlier, programming director Rüdiger Wischenbart had created a thematic thread called “Publishing Goes Pop,” a way for attendees to focus on popular-fandom modes of marketing. These are approaches that many traditionalist publishing people haven’t thought were appropriate or achievable for the world of books and reading. At the same time, many are realizing that in order to compete in the digital entertainment world, publishing is going to have to open itself to scalable, pertinent forms of audience-building, particularly among the  younger demographic brackets.

In Part 1 of this two-part set of articles, we focused on the comments of ReedPOP executive Lance Fensterman, whoseBookCon on 30th and 31st May drew 18,000 ticketholders to the Jacob J. Javits Center. Fensterman talked of a “niche passion” that transforms steady readers into something that can be mobilized in the marketplace: fans.

In this article, Part 2 of the set, we want to hear from the other voices on the panel — Bhaskar, Nathan Hull, and Andreas Gall — to get at some of the other entry points we have into thinking about fandom and how such a populist concept may have relevance for publishing.

Mofibo's Nathan Hull, left, and Canelo Publishing's Michael Bhaskar speak at Berlin's Klopotek Publishers Forum. Image: Adam Janisch
Mofibo’s Nathan Hull, left, and Canelo Publishing’s Michael Bhaskar speak at Berlin’s Klopotek Publishers Forum. Image: Adam Janisch

First, Bhaskar, and I’m glad to say that he will be joining me on the 15th of October at Frankfurt Book Fair’s Business Club for a special “Hardcore Book Fan Hugging” — the second in a series of three “Hug the Alien” programs that bring together some of the reachier concepts in and near publishing today and help make them more accessible, even actionable.

And he had arrived, in our “pop” session in April, with five points on the topic of fandom well worth reviewing here.

1. The “key change” that Bhaskar defines in what publishing does in the world, as mentioned above, is in the move from amplification to audience-building. Where once it was enough simply to put out a book — boom, amplification — today, that’s not enough. Publishing becomes a question of finding and building audience for what’s being amplified.

2. “The way we make our business” at Canelo Publishing, Bhaskar said, “is not when we have one author with a book, but one author with six books in a series. People need to be very quickly addicted to our books, and that means we focus on two things: story and character. All we want are books [so good] that people will forget about the medium. They won’t care if they’re on an iPhone or an iPad. They have to be gripped by the story. And therein lies the essence of fandom. A fan is someone who’ll download the first book and then download the rest of the books in a series immediately.”

3. “What’s the difference in a fan and an ordinary customer?,” Bhaskar was setting up his own answer: “I’d say there are two key differences. The first is qualitative: the intensity of the relationship between a fan and what they’re a fan of is much greater. Think of someone who likes Barçelona Football Club or Star Trek. When you see a One Direction fan screaming in the audience, crying over Zayn Malik, that is intense, a qualitatively different level of relationship.  But there’s also a quantitative difference, too. In a typical customer interaction they’ll buy something, they might use it, and that’s it. But a fan will come back, again and again and again and again.”

4. “What does the Internet mean in all this? Firstly, fans are advocates, evangelizers, they’ll talk incessantly about whatever they’re fans of. …The network empowers fans in a way that lets them be very public, they can make their voice be heard…They can sell products and they can break products.”

The Curve by Nicholas LovellHere, Bhaskar went on to say that the Internet also “creates a new economics of fandom.” And he drew on the work of Nicholas Lovell, whose The Curve: How Smart Companies Find High-Value Customers was published in 2013 by Penguin’s Portfolio imprint.

On the Internet where things tend toward “free”…Nicholas Lovell says it doesn’t matter what your price is. If there’s free entertainment on YouTube, that’s causing a problem. But fans aren’t willing to spend just 10 euros on a book. They’re willing to spend 500 euros on a special edition and one fan is willing to spend 5,000 euros on going to meet the author and having dinner with him…So the whole pricing structure around fandom is based around a few key super-fans willing to spend huge amounts of money engaging with the product. The difficulty is that we all work in businesses that still have the old industrial model. How can we adapt and get what Nicholas Lovell calls this “curve” pricing structure?

5. Here, in his last point, Bhaskar put forward the idea that the kind of fandom we were talking about and debating in terms of publishing’s future “is causing a kind of shift, even in the  nature of capitalism. Fandom is turning up in areas that are completely unexpected.” As examples, Bhaskar cited IKEA fan conventions and Warren Buffett’s famous Berkshire Hathaway shareholder events in Omaha.

All of which led ReedPOP’s Fensterman to muse, maybe a bit longingly,  on “BerkshireCon.”

Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether:   ‘Publishing Goes Pop,’ Part 2: Is A Fan A ‘Quantified Reader’?

Originally published by Thought Catalog at



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