The web-based platform, that has counted Duran Duran, the Moody Blues, Aimee Mann, Bush and Joe Jackson among its music clientele, has seen that its model translates well to the book business.
“The book industry and author industry has very similar dynamics to the record industry,” says Liz Leahy, a digital branding/marketing maven who co-founded Section 101 in 2009 with technology expert Jim Hoffman. “It’s now easy to self-publish, but not promote yourself and create a fan base—even if you’re an established author.”
To this end, Section 101, which offers a comprehensive premium service to clients as well as a less expensive DIY model, is now assisting authors like mystery writer Sandra Balzo, whose Maggy Thorsen series has been optioned for development as a TV series or film, and horror writer Timothy W. Long.
“Timothy might not have thought about self-marketing, but he’s really creating a website portal for people to see the work he’s doing and hear samples, since he’s particularly strong in audio books,” says Leahy. She notes, too, that music clients like Slipknot’s Corey Taylor are now publishing books.
“BEA was very interesting for us, and great from a partnership perspective,” says Leahy. “We also have several clients in film and TV with similar needs, who are writing or narrating books. You see them everywhere, and we’re helping them create a presence.”
She cites actor/director/writer Vincent Spano, who has “a tremendous amount of work over a long career and has created a YouTube channel with clips of his work and his narration to give them context, which symbolizes to the industry, ‘I’m serious.’”
Likewise, actress Deirdre Lovejoy wrote a blog series on her site, “Lucky Girl Blog,” leading up to her performances with Tom Hanks on Broadway in Lucky Guy.
“The whole idea is that a website should be like a glossy magazine, saying ‘Here’s what I’ve done and here’s what I do—and the backstory,’” says Hoffman. “That’s what fans want, and with social media you build a bigger base.”
Websites and social media comprise the formula.
“Jim and I started with large heritage acts who were going out on their own, who had an established global fan base,” recalls Leahy, who was previously working with Hoffman at Bigfoot Interactive, an early email marketing company whose top-tier clients included Disney, Microsoft, AT&T and The New York Times.
“Our specialty wasn’t spam but CRM--customer relationship marketing--and maximizing the value of customers using email,” says Hoffman.
With the music acts, the goal was to “help take them online and create an online brand through their database of fans that they could target and engage with 365 days a year through the recording-touring cycle,” continues Leahy, thereby “giving them the power to propel their careers forward. But at that time, technology was so expensive: It was pre-cloud computing. Some had email lists, but many had no assets. Maybe they had sold 50 million records, but they didn’t know the identity of a single purchaser.”
Duran Duran was an early client—and is still on board.
“We pioneered paid fan communities, providing access to bands and special concert and merchandise packages,” says Hoffman. “We put people on the road with the band and organized events before every show where fans could connect with the artists and each other, and the connection became more important than the actual event. It has since become the VIP fan experience, and people come from all over the world to tour with the band.”
All of this provided a new revenue stream that the artists had complete control over, notes Leahy. Furthermore, “they were able to capture in digital space all the content from their shows—set lists, fan photos, road notes—and really share and engage with their fans.”
Leahy and Hoffman in effect became marketing partners with bands and management.
“This was pre-current YouTube, and we were shooting pictures and video everywhere—not the traditional polished-and-produced material, but raw, get-it-while-you-can videos and made it all available to fans," says Leahy. It wasn’t so much about generating revenue but giving the fans direct access, and they felt loved and cared for and appreciated. So it made a big difference on both sides of the equation.”
Bands had grown “very removed” from their fan bases, she observes.
“We set up fan community-oriented websites and created different password-protected, membership-only tiers and options--which are common today—and all the content,” she says. “Now Facebook has taken on a lot of that role,” adds Hoffman, “but the power of the Internet has always been about connecting people of like minds.”
At the beginning, it was “fairly expensive” to service websites like Duran Duran’s, dealing with a million or so fan hits a month while the band was on tour, Leahy notes. But the “aha moment” came in 2006 with the advent of cloud computing.
“We saw the opportunity to take what we’d done to a much larger audience, now that costs had decreased so significantly,” she says.
“It’s a very powerful concept: An emerging artist who doesn’t have a first full album out can use the exact same promotional tools that a multi-platinum artist can use,” says Hoffman. But while this may indeed “level the playing field,” it also brings challenges, as Healy notes.
“They have the ability to do their own marketing and promotion, but they have no idea how to do it,” she says. “So our concept is to make something simple for them to use.”
The shrunken contemporary music business being what it is, Section 101 has found universal recognition of “the importance of an amazing web presence and owning that real estate and controlling their destiny,” says Healy.
“Whether you’re emerging or established, it’s really more and more up to you,” she concludes. “As an entrepreneur, I understand that--and the challenges associated with it. So we’re enabling people to drive their own success.”
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