I’ve heard it said that there is no point in writing yet another book on a subject matter that has been well covered already, or in recording an album, because there are millions of albums already on offer, or painting another painting, when the galleries are already full to the gunnels. Yes, maybe the likelihood of making a significant impact in any of those markets is small, or at the very least too small to justify all the effort. But here’s the thing: There is always room in the market for the outstanding. It doesn’t matter how crowded the field is, if you put something of undeniable quality or value or originality into it, there always seems to be a way found to accommodate it.
Yet again, it shows that the only rational response of the artist to adversity is to make better art. Your CD doesn’t have a bar code, so retailers can’t stock it? Sell it direct. Bar codes are not your concern. I know people that sold CDs direct to their fans, over twitter – no record company or retailer involved. No middle man. There are fewer retail record stores anyway, so why do you care if your CD has no bar code?
For that matter, there would still be record stores and book stores if they had thought things through. Instead of making their retail stores into a personal work of art, retail chains made them all the same, so that if you went to a store in one town, there was no point in going to another in a different town. They would have the same stock, displayed the same way. You know before you even go in.
And whereas supermarkets learned to put best sellers, like milk and bread, at the back of the store, forcing you to walk past a diverse range of more profitable lines, record stores and book stores put racks of the best seller at the front door. You could see three hundred identical copies of the best selling record or book, in every store. But you would never have to actually go into the store to browse. Had they done it the other way around, putting the quirky, individual products at the door (and these products have better margins, remember), with the best sellers at the back, you would have had a reason to browse in there and buy more stuff. Oops.
And what a waste of shelf space! Putting all of your stock on display isn’t clever. It just says you have no warehousing in the back. It also displaces variety and diversity and that’s ultimately why people stopped shopping there. There was nothing new and of interest, in sufficient quantity, to make the visit worthwhile. If I want the bestseller, I can always get that from the lowest priced retailer. I don’t need to see four hundred identical copies of it. I can buy any colour of Stratocaster I want online. Why do I need to go to a retail store to see a wall of them?
What if your book has no ISBN number? So what? That’s the problem of the stockists and librarians. Sell your eBook online, direct to your customer. Use print on demand fulfilment, if you want it to be rendered to paper. That technology exists and is within the reach of most writers. If your novel becomes a best seller, the ISBN numbering people will find you. Don’t worry. So will the barcode issuing people.
Finally, if you are entering a crowded marketplace (and most artists are), then the only thing that makes any sense is to make the best work you are capable of producing. Make it fresh and personal, not a knock off copy of somebody else’s success. You’ll only come off looking second best. Make it unique, make it original and make it your own. If it’s outstanding, it will be found, even in the most densely over-supplied category. Even if it isn’t found and doesn’t succeed, what could feel better than making outstanding art?
If you put music, or art or your writing into a crowded market, producing something truly outstanding will give you the best chance of having word of mouth recommendation break out, like wildfire. When the costs of duplication are as low as they are (in real terms) today, having enough stock of your latest music or eBook isn’t too difficult or expensive a problem to solve. The hard problem is to make something that means enough to as many people as care to buy into your point of view. Everybody else is not your customer, never was and never will be, so stop chasing them. Serve the people that want what you do most, by giving them the best that you’ve got.