Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why Cat Videos Will Always Be More Popular Than Your Novel

Before we get started, watch this video.

That video was 31 seconds long, shot on a shaky hand cam, and absent a single piece of real dialogue. It's been reposted thousands of times, and the original posting had over 100,000 views in the first month. People all over the world watched this video, and instantly told all their friends about it for days and days. Their friends watched it, and the process repeated itself. In fact, I will almost guarantee that 50%-75% of the people who share this very post do so because of the cat video on it.

I can confidently say that this will never happen to your novels. Or to my novels. That isn't a statement on our status as writers. It's just that you cannot compete with this. Here's why.


The argument about quantity over quality is a big part of this section. Novels, by and large, take a long bleeding time to write. Even if someone can manage the phenomenal pace of an author like Stephen King, there's still the months of review by editors, the art that has to be created for the cover, the promotion for the book, and additional time tacked on for any problems in the process. At the absolute best, a novel will take a year from page one to release date. Absolute best rarely happens.

Cat videos on the other hand can be produced at a fast clip, taking days or weeks at most depending on editing and whether the creator is setting up a certain situation. This means that the audience gets more hits of their drug of choice more often, and it leads to a constantly re-enforced fandom which can be very hard to create with books. Also, reading a book can take days or weeks. This video can be watched in half a minute while you're supposed to be working.


Not everyone reads. It's an unfortunate and painful fact, but it's true. Whether it's because of time, personal preference, or just a hatred that was instilled in third grade English class, there's only a certain portion of the population for whom a novel is a preferred form of escape. A significantly larger portion of the world has access to the Internet, and is willing to spend at least half a minute watching something hilarious and adorable on their computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.


This is one of the biggest reasons that books cannot compete with cat videos, much less with all of Youtube. An author who gives his or her work away for free is never going to be able to achieve financial independence through that work. Internet videos on the other hand have advertising revenue backing them, that means the creator gets paid if the audience takes the time to click an ad in order to support said creator. That's also the way blogs work. Blogs just like this one.

You have to convince people that your epic post-apocalyptic sci-fi story where a hybrid super soldier unravels a government conspiracy is worth $10. Users on Youtube can slap their videos up for free, and just wait for word of mouth to spread.

What Difference Does That Make?

This was the same question video game giants asked when Angry Birds got popular. A dinky little game produced by a handful of upstarts wasn't going to be a threat to their empire. Until it was. Video game companies who had thought nothing of the casual game market suddenly saw their profits shrinking, and they had no clue they were even in a fight.

Casual gaming is a lot like Internet videos in this sense. They're fast, engaging, portable, entertaining, and they can absorb users for hours. While both Skyrim and Conan the Usurper are more deeply involving than their casual counterparts, they require someone who can set aside the entertainment snack food and delve a little deeper.

How do You do That?

There are a lot of methods for luring people away from quicker, faster entertainments though there's no guarantee any of them will work. That's the nature of the beast when discussing marketing.

The first is to fight fire with fire. To that end authors may make trailers for their books, creating a visual experience that can suck readers in and make them want more. In addition to trailers authors may run vlogs, or offer free clips of themselves reading snippets of their books or short stories. Some authors go so far as to have a fully-acted cast, creating an old style radio drama out of their material.

Another approach is to focus much more narrowly on an audience that prefers books over the Internet's cat crack. Audiences like older Americans who don't use the Internet, academics who prefer reading to simply observing their entertainments, genre fans for whom the vistas of new worlds will always be a first love, and others of like mind.

Some authors realize that if you can't beat them, you should join them. These authors use the memes and popularity of short, simple videos to gain a following, and then slowly start introducing their books to that audience. It's more insidious, and it requires multiple skill sets, but this method can work wonders for those who know how to play on viewer's heart strings.

People Will Always Read... Won't They?

Probably. As long as teachers and parents instill a love of books into young people, and that love isn't destroyed by all the academic reading required in college, then there's always going to be a place for books. As long as people who see movies want to read the original source material, and as long as there's an audience that craves the fantastic and the horrifying, there will be readers.

You just have to be loud enough for them to notice you.

If you're looking for some more funny stuff about cats, check out all of their superpowers here. If your furry friend is suffering from a urinary tract infection and you want to provide a simple, at-home cure, check this out. If you want to keep up to date with my author activities, then follow me on Facebook, or check me out on Tumblr. A total list of my books, including the post-apocalyptic sci-fi mentioned above titled Heart of the Myrmidon may be found on my Goodreads page. Lastly please feel free to like and share any and everything you find here. Remember that this page runs on Google AdSense. If you want to see something in particular featured on The Literary Mercenary, just drop me a line and I'll look into it.

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