Does Time = Demand?

I don’t have a degree, or any formal experience, in marketing, though I’ve spent some time in the publishing industry. So, you know, maybe there’s something I’m not getting here, but lately I’ve been seeing a lot of assertions from publishers that the longer you keep people waiting for a product, the greater the demand for it, and that doesn’t seem quite right to me.

The idea as I understand it is that if you’re publishing a series – let’s say a trilogy, just to be arbitrary – at one-year intervals, which is pretty normal, and you’re dissatisfied with the sales of volume two, you can delay volume three by a few to several months and magically “increase demand” (i.e. sales) for the same.

Now, I suspect that’s kind of true, in a way – you’re going to make the people who already want that book and are already anticipating buying it, want it even more badly, because you’re making them wait longer for it. But just postponing something doesn’t automatically generate more sales and new would-be consumers out of thin air, does it?

I mean, if that was the case, Half Life 2: Episode Three would sell about a half-billion copies the first week it finally gets released, and Duke Nukem Forever would sell about a billion and a half copies, if and when it gets released… right? And I shudder to think what kind of money the leprous, ankle-biting vermin at Microsoft would make if they ever pulled their hairy, opposable digits out of their fat and inflamed posteriors and finally released Halo 3 for Windows… but I digress.

I guess the idea is that as time goes on more people are going to get exposed to the previous titles in the series, and then eagerly await the next one. I just don’t really see that happening, though – or rather, I don’t see that happening in large enough numbers to make any kind of real difference.

What I think a lot of publishers fair to realize is that your average consumer can – and will – only consume a finite quantity of materiel, be it books or magazines or movies or television shows or video games or… whatever, and will only consume it at a fairly finite rate. (In other words, people only buy one or two books, or movies, or whatever, a week, a pay period, a month… whatever.) I don’t think there’s anyone out there who’s like “Wow, book three of the Pastafazool Cycle has been delayed until next autumn, guess I just won’t read anything until then”. Consumers aren’t like that – if they can’t get Pastafazool and Tippecanoe when they want, they’ll pick up something else – and six months down the line, when Pastafazool and Tippecanoe finally hits the shelves, at the same time as the next volume of that “something else”, which one is going to win out? The media franchise that’s fresh in the consumer’s mind and sticks to its nominal schedule, or one they haven’t looked at or even thought about in a while?

I’m sorry, I just can’t see that delay = increased demand, where media franchises with marginal sales are concerned. In fact, I’d guess that the opposite might actually be true – delays turning potential consumers off of a series, because who knows if or when it’ll actually be done?

Announce early, sure, to generate anticipation – but postponing things to increase demand? Just not understanding that, myself.

Published in: General | on November 5th, 2009| Comments Off on Does Time = Demand?

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