Last week I spent some time and identified the public perception problems that the Science Fiction Writers of America has with a large portion of the independent writer and reader demographic which now comprises more than 50% of the product consumed by Amazon’s metrics, which detracts people from joining their club. I’ve been holding off on writing more on the topic as I’ve attempted to get some data from their president, Cat Rambo. Unfortunately, Ms. Rambo was not forthcoming in earnestly speaking about the club’s current objectives, accusing me of trolling rather than providing information. I asked for demographic information on the club in order to help further dial in what their current membership makeup looks like, potential targets for future members, as well as to see if the perception of exclusionary tactics by the club seems to have basis in reality. Ms. Rambo has stated that the club does not keep such records—which first and foremost I would highly recommend implementing, so we can do these types of analyses better in the future.
I’m going to make the assumption that asking a direct question about whether the club is attempting to be a minority-only niche and getting a name-calling response rather than an honest one means that the club does have that goal, but they don’t want that to be in the public forefront. However since it is not a stated goal, I can’t focus on that for the time being. My recommendation is either, depending on their goal: 1. make it a stated public goal that this is a minority-centric club with the sole intention of advancing minority interests or 2. making outreach efforts to the white males, conservatives, and Christians in the writing community in order to change the current perception. That will not be the focus of the future of this case study since there is no hard data on them atter, but if there is interest there, you’re welcome to contact me and I’ll have suggestions on how to make that marketing.
Instead we’ll focus on issue #6 in my original post: The list of benefits aren’t directly tangible or easy to quantify.
A club asking for regular dues must provide some sort of tangible value for that membership. The four points on their website need to be refreshed and updated for the modern market in order to bring in the next generation of members and create a club that has the cache of SFWA past. In order to further delve into how to do this, we’ll have to look at the four principles of marketing, something that is impressed upon students hard in Business 101 classes in colleges. The four Ps:
Product: The issue we’ve identified is a product problem at its core, though tangentially price ends up being a problem because of the product problem. $100 a year is a lot to ask writers in an industry where even with a couple professional sales on the short story circuit, they may only be making $500-$1000 per year. Most books only sell about 200-300 copies, and if they put out several of those per year, they may be in a range where they’re making a few thousand bucks, but a hundred dollar expenditure at that point would be much better spent on a book cover, editing for the next book, or paid advertisements. The entire low-end of the club falls out at that point, which creates grumbling within the community about it not being worth it. The high end of the club doesn’t need the community benefits quite as much as the low end, and so we’re left with a product that has a very low util to cost ratio.
Price: All things being equal, I’ll presume that SFWA wishes the membership cost to remain at its current rate or even potentially increase to account for inflation. Unless I hear otherwise from Ms. Rambo this post is read.
Placement and Promotion: Placement seems easy as it’s an internet-based organization with a conference per year that rotates cities, I don’t think they have issues there. Promotion, looking at their use of social media could use some further assistance. SFWA should maximize the leverage of their bigger name authors to give, like book blurbs, brief social media worthy quotes about their experiences in the club to make it sound much more appealing to newer, younger authors. Utilize your best capital which is the brand of some of your writers. Right now, the social media account’s first few posts are begging for Amazon smile donations, which doesn’t produce the image of a successful, thriving organization at all. A big benefit of SFWA is the perceived success of the organization, and that needs to be capitalized upon. I have many other ways in which to utilize this and will happily assist upon request.
We’ll focus this case study on the product, as that requires the most work within the business development. Without an excellent product, the other 3 Ps fall by the wayside, because it doesn’t matter what you do, it will still have a negative perception, especially with a three digit annual price point. When asked about the club’s benefits, referring to a page that has four points of which two are unquantifiable beyond a “you get what you give” and the other two are extremely rare circumstantial situations of which applies to only a very few, it’s easy to see where the perception of low product takes place. The “we give some promotion and a sense of community” can easily be attained on free internet boards, or facebook groups, or mailing lists. Since all of those can be gained for free and in some cases with equal or greater memberships, SFWA’s four points of why to join have lost nearly all of its value. Those elements need to be dialed into more tangible benefits, and more benefits need to be created in order to help the club in the future.
We’ll focus the next blog on product development and bringing SFWA from a club still in a 20th century mentality in terms of product in a 21st century world. Please, in the comments, people who are in SFWA and not, what would be something that you would find beneficial in an author’s club that would be worth a premium like that? This is an open brainstorming session and needs your help!