• tarahthornburg

Don’t Rule It Out Because It’s Never Been Done Before

This post airs today on The Fearless Creative podcastIf you’d rather read instead of listen, I’ve included the abridged transcript below.

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Welcome, welcome, welcome to the show. Thank you for tuning in…Today is a beautiful day. It’s the first nice day we’ve had all week, and I just got in from taking the dog for a walk. One dog…Luna, the normal one. Today Nelson remembered that he’s scared of our neighborhood and refused to go past the front gate.

Our neighborhood is full of youths on skateboards, which he finds very threatening…and the occasional feral Saint Bernard that will run out and harass us on walks. Point being, the world is a very scary place for Nelson. So he did not join us on our walk.

So today I want to talk about some of the innovations I’m seeing in the way a few people I follow are using digital media. I am very interested in how people are using new-ish media in new interesting ways. Because as the digital media we consume have matured, we are starting to see some companies and individuals using these channels in really innovative ways.

Most of you know that I’m a novelist…And as someone who earns a living working in an old-school medium that sells primarily digital books, I am always really excited when I see people using a mature medium in a really cool way. These are people like Oprah, Brene Brown, Marie Kondo, and Deepak Chopra.

Throughout this episode, I’m going to be mentioning a lot of books and podcasts by name. If you want to go check those out later, you don’t need to write them down. If you forget the name of something I mention, you can always just check the show notes in the episode description or at http://www.TheFearlessCreative.me.

So the first phenomenon I want to talk about is the phenomenon of “Free as a Strategy” for the heavy hitters.

Now, as an indie author, I have really mixed feelings about free. The free book strategy has been used and abused in publishing by indies to the point that it has kind of lost its shine. I also think there’s a big problem with our digital culture in general, because I think we have trained consumers to expect a lot of things to be free when a lot of hard work went into making those things.

But I’m intrigued by some really big names using free to make themselves even more ubiquitous.

So, Apple recently announced that it’s going to be giving away free original programming to device owners as part of Apple TV+. Users can subscribe to premium channels and digital services that people are already subscribing to, but Apple has made it clear that it not only wants to be the hub people go to to stream their favorite shows; it wants a piece of the revenue all these third-party subscription services are bringing in. Some people are saying that Apple’s going to be getting 15% of the revenue when people sign up to Netflix or HBO through the App Store.

This just goes to show you that if you own the platform — in this case, the device that everyone is glued to — you can do just about anything you want. And by offering a bunch of original content for free, Apple is hoping to bring more users onto its devices so they will be spending money in Apple’s ecosystem.

Another big name that just dropped a big free bomb was Oprah. So a week ago Sunday, she gave the commencement speech at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. No, I didn’t go, but I wanted to. And she gave every graduate a copy of her new book, “The Path Made Clear.”

Not only that, but she gave away the e-book and audiobook versions away for free to everyone on Sunday. And as an author, I was trying to figure out why she was doing this. I figured she was trying to give the book a giant boost so that it would pick up some steam and then be ranked number one on Amazon and Audible once the free promo was over.

But when I checked on the book’s rankings, it wasn’t even number one in its category, which I found shocking. Then I thought, “Well, it’s Oprah.” Oprah doesn’t have a show anymore, but she wants to be ubiquitous. She wants to be everywhere, and she wants everyone to know what she’s up to these days.

Then I read the commencement speech. It’s a pretty good one — I’ll put a link to it down in the show notes. And I remembered that Oprah is worth $2.6 billion. Oprah doesn’t care about her book’s Amazon ranking. What Oprah does care about is being of service. She wants to help people, and she wants to leave a legacy. That’s why she made her book free. It’s the only explanation that makes sense, and I love Oprah for that.

So the next phenomenon I want to talk about is how companies and individuals are using short-form entertainment in really cool ways. Now, we all know that people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. I’m half-convinced that people don’t read anymore. People skim. Which means there are many fewer people reading novels than there were even ten years ago.

My husband would blame what he calls the “bubblegum” Millennials. (Ben is a very smug Gen Xer — just barely.) And bubblegum has kind of become this catch-all term for here-today-gone-tomorrow Instagram stars and kind of the stereotypically vapid Millennials with the attention span of a fly.

It’s all a little scary, but I for one have been paying attention to how the big names are harnessing this trend in a way that is still effective and meaningful.

So until very recently, almost any TV show you’d watch would be either 22 minutes long or 42 minutes long so they would fit into a half hour or hour slot with ads on network television. Now that a lot of shows are consumed on commercial-free streaming sites, we’re starting to see longer shows. Episodes of “The Last Kingdom” run 59 minutes, and that show originally aired on BBC America. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” finale was 85 minutes long. “The Crown” also runs hour-long episodes on Netflix, and if you ask me, those episodes could all benefit from being about 10 minutes shorter.

But just recently I noticed that Netflix has tried its hand at the 15-minute format. It just launched another original show called “Bonding,” which I’d give a B-. It’s about a very emotionally guarded grad student working as a dominatrix who enlists the help of her best guy-friend from high school who is gay. That show didn’t fully land for me, but I thought the 15-minute episodes were the perfect length for the narrative.

TV isn’t the only place we’re seeing shorter-form episodes taking hold. For a long time, a lot of podcasts have fallen into longer episodes by default. I’ve seen some podcasters trying to do 6-8 minute episodes, but for me, these just never seemed worth listening to. I like to listen to podcasts when I get ready, when I clean, and when I wash the dishes, and so I don’t like having to pause every few minutes to go to the next episode.

But there’s one person I have found that is pulling off the short podcast. And when I say short, I mean short. Deepak Chopra just recently launched two new podcasts. One is a long-form show called “Infinite Potential” and the other is called “Daily Breath,” which has 4-6 minute episodes that air daily.

And I think this is why it works. Instead of getting Deepak for 40 minutes once a week, we get a little dose of him every weekday for just five minutes. It really should come as no surprise that Deepak has mastered short form. Deepak Chopra is 72 years old, and he is using Instagram better than any Millennial I’ve seen. If you don’t follow him on Instagram and you want little one-minute videos of him explaining the true nature of reality, I highly recommend his feed.

He is an example of someone who is taking a “bubblegum” platform like Instagram and using it in a meaningful way to insert himself in all our lives. You can get one minute of Deepak on Instagram, five minutes of him on his podcast, or ten hours of Deepak in one of his books or audiobooks.

And speaking of podcasters, Mark Zuckerberg just launched a podcast. This is the perfect example of the final phenomenon I want to mention, which is how a lot of big names are seeing success by crossing platforms in unlikely ways. I’m thinking that Mark Zuckerberg launched a podcast because audio is huge right now. People can consume audio when they’re doing other things, and audio helps build trust.

As I’m talking to you right now, it’s almost like we’re having a conversation. If you’ve been listening since episode one, you probably are starting to feel as though you know me. Although, I can see from my stats that I have listeners in Columbia, Missouri; Quincy, Illinois, Park Ridge, Illinois; Kansas City, Missouri; Colorado Springs; Newark, Delaware, and Pasadena, Maryland, so I kind of think that I do know you…Like maybe we’re friends in real life? You know who you are.

But the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is now dipping his navy-blue crewneck sweater into the ring with audio tells me that I’m onto something here.

What has been most surprising to me this year is how popular nonfiction authors have launched Netflix specials, which further reinforces my creeping suspicion that people just can’t be bothered to read books anymore.

Marie Kondo, who wrote “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” produced a really charming little reality TV show where she went into people’s homes and helped them tidy to prepare for big life transitions. I was impressed with this show because, for one, she is adorable, and for another, she broke the mold of reality TV. There was no drama. Nobody threw a glass of chardonnay…These were real people who were mostly likeable, and when Marie went in there, she genuinely helped them sort out their lives by sorting out their environment.

But that’s not all…

Just this week I had the pleasure of viewing Brené Brown’s special on Netflix: “The Call to Courage.” This special was really surprising to me. I mean, I’ve seen TED Talks. It was kind of like that. But it also had the feel of a comedy special that you would watch on Netflix.

It was funny. It was self-deprecating. But it was also really heartfelt and inspiring. I feel like it could be new territory for nonfiction authors to connect with an audience in a really deep way.

Personally, I am very excited about how authors especially are using new media to reach their audiences because as artificial intelligence gets better and better at generating text and natural language, I think the personal connection people can make with authors and influencers is going to be more important than ever before.

I think the lesson here for creative entrepreneurs is “Don’t rule it out because it doesn’t fit the convention” and don’t rule it out because it isn’t exactly the medium you’re used to working in.

I was really nervous to get into audio because I’m a writer. But I have really enjoyed it, and it fits better with my existing skill set than I ever imagined.

Don’t be misled into thinking that there is only ONE way to make it as an author or ONE way to make it as a visual artist or an actor or a musician. The world is full of people doing crazy things with the Internet and using the technology at their disposal to get their work out into the world and connect with people in a meaningful way.

That right there is the key: Whatever medium you work in, find a way to connect more deeply with the people you are trying to reach. That is what’s going to serve you in the long run and make you someone that people remember — even in our bubblegum world.

So…If you have ideas for future show topics or want to talk about this one, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter @writewithtarah

As always, if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and write a review. Reviews really help new listeners discover the podcast. They help me, and they help other creatives find their home away from home on the Internet.

I’ll see you next time. And happy creating!

Did you enjoy this transcript? Don’t you wish you could hear it in my sexy radio voice? Well, now you can. The Fearless Creative is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Music, Spotify, Stitcher, and wherever you get your podcasts. You should subscribe.

Photo by Joshua Sortino

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