My good friend Tim has published dozens of books. As a wanna-be writer, I watched with great anticipation as he built his author business from the ground up—first as a side hustle when we were colleagues. This vantage point has given me a vested interest in seeing where the story goes. Even if I didn’t know or like Tim, I’d probably want to keep following the story of his journey. Yet he is a good friend, so add that to the list of reasons to follow him. Add to these reasons that I probably get a little vicarious pleasure in seeing what he can do. Maybe I’m looking for proof of concept for ideas that have been bouncing around my own head for some time. Considering all of these reasons, I am naturally wired to be Tim’s most fervent follower. The only way I can imagine myself being more interested in this story is if he were my child.
Despite all of this interest, here is a sad truth: [Pause here for dramatic effect]
I have not read a single one of his books.
Tim, I hope you are not reading this, but if you are, I’m sorry man. There are lots of reasons. I rarely find time to read books anymore. Most of my “reading” is actually listening to audiobooks, podcasts, and talk radio, and I believe only one of your books has made it to audio. I fit the little bit of listening I do into my commutes or to my house and car jobs. Even if I were reading more, it would likely be mostly non-fiction—a far cry from post-apoc urban fantasy.
I suspect Tim knows this already. I’ve never said anything like “Hey, that character you introduced in Chapter 4 is crazy.” Also, he and I have both joked about how little our wives know about things we’ve written or created. I have shared information about this Teaching Transformations project with friends, family, and former colleagues, and I know many are not following and probably haven’t listened to a single episode. I think Tim and I are both aware of how much competition is out there for everyone’s attention.
Back in 2008, I gave a presentation that included information about Web 2.0. I reported, based on statistics I was finding at the time from Technorati, that there were 120 million blogs with 175,000 new each day. Average readership per blog? One. Yes, you read correctly. Uno. Many blogs were just not getting read. It was a stark signal of the level of competition that came with democratizing content publishing. Lots of people suddenly had the ability to publish, but there wasn’t an equal swell of consumer appetite.
Publishing of content has not slowed a bit. As of 2020, there were over 600 million blogs. Nearly 32 million Americans blog, which is about 10% of the US population. Consider some other media. In the period of 2008-2021, the number of published podcasts grew from 10,000 to 850,000 active podcasts. In October 2008, 15 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute. In 2021, that number has climbed to 500 hours per minute. The number of self-published books rose from a little over 85,000 in 2008 to 1.7 million in 2018. Combined with print titles, there are nearly 2.5 million new book titles published worldwide each year.
What does all of this mean? Especially for folks who are just thinking about getting into the content game?
Well, there are a few takeaways.
- We need to be realistic about how difficult it is to establish an audience for any kind of content.
There is simply A LOT of competition for our eyes and ears.
- On the flip side, it is easier than ever to publish anything and everything.
This is both a blessing and curse. Gatekeepers be damned, but there is an awful lot of noise out there.
- Targeting niche audiences will continue to trend.
Had Tim been writing about wine-making, I probably would have read (listened to) some of his books. The little time I have to consume content is tightly targeted around my interests.
- Quality will eventually reign supreme.
Think about it. Competition buoys quality. If there are three really good insightful blogs about one of my passions, and one of them is lazy or sloppy, it is going to get the axe. Use this to your advantage and focus on quality.
- Just because you have the impulse to create and share, doesn’t mean someone will be there to consume.
In a recent podcast episode, I shared the story of when I decided to try to sell a recipe in a cooking magazine back in my early twenties. Getting zero orders was a good lesson for me. Your enthusiasm, your big ideas don’t mean anything to anyone else. No one cares.
- If it is really in you to create and share, you need to do it despite the odds of finding substantial audience.
This is what the second and third acts are all about—drawing from your passions, having pure motivations. I recently listened to an interview with David Crosby, who is eighty years old. He has released five albums in the past six years. Music doesn’t make him money like it used to. He does it strictly for the joy. As Tim mentioned in a recent podcast episode, we tend to need less money as we get older. We can focus on what we care most about, and hopefully we can find others who care as well.