Saturday, May 17, 2014

Music on the box - a basic principle about the human nose

Oh, never mind, you can listen on the website. Oh, not to worry, it's on BBC4. How familiar is this litany?

Look down the TV listings of the oddzillion available channels and amid the bake-offs and the drying paint and the relocations and the game shows and the lottery and the not-very-funny comedies, and you might find a little culture, but if you do you will be very lucky.

As for performances of classical music, with the exception of the Proms in summer... there's hardly anything. Documentaries from time to time, yes; and BBC Young Musician, in which people insist on having talking over performances during the section finals - an indignity not equivalently suffered by the Eurovision Song Contest.

But you will not channel-flip on BBC1 or 2 or even Channel 4 and accidentally discover a piano recital by Daniil Trifonov, or a string quintet playing Schubert, or a fashionable baroque band. You just won't, because the concerts are not there. How can you grumble? You can go to the internet and look it up... 

This matters. It really does. Anyone can see that people love classical music when they have a chance to hear it - witness all those instances of its use in adverts and football and 50 Shades of Grey. But the bottom line is that unless you put it right in front of them, literally shove it under their noses, nobody new will take any notice. Harsh? Yep.

I know this from selling books.

Last season we had a number of performances of my concerts-of-the-novels, and of course this is a book-selling opportunity too good to miss.

Venues' sales facilities differ. Some provide very visible trestle tables by the entrance. Others have smallish counters; others still have none. 

One principle I learned during all this is that if you do not display the books in an obvious way, nobody will buy them.

You can't guarantee that anyone will buy a book even if they are displayed, of course. But you sure as hell won't sell them if nobody knows they're there, and a handwritten sign saying BOOKS £6.99 doesn't float anyone's boat unless beside it there's a pile of, er, books. You have to make them prominent; you have to make a thing of them. 

Our most successful sales event ever was a coffee concert at last year's Ulverston Festival. The venue had long trestle tables in the foyer, devoted assistants on duty to take cash and offer change, an announcement at the concert saying I'd be signing books out front afterwards, and plenty of refreshments that let people stay on location without zooming off for caffeine fix elsewhere. They even fed me a GF chocolate brownie.

The least successful sales figures were in places where the books were tucked away apologetically in a corner, or in which any designated sales assistant was busy talking to friends, and of course where the books were not on display at all - even, in some cases, when they were sitting backstage in a cardboard box, waiting. 

Take those chain bookstores in which selected books are on display at the front of the shop, piled flat on tables. Few people move beyond those tables to the shelves, unless they are hunting down something specific. It is not that they are lazy, or unimaginative, or too stressed to spend the extra time. It's just that they... don't.

The tables are in front of our noses; the spines on the shelves are not. It's human nature and it's no reflection on anybody - but unless your product is in that fragrant location, you probably won't shift anything. Speaking of noses, deciding not to put something out there because you think nobody wants it anyway really is cutting off yours to spite your face.

The surest way not to win the lottery is not to buy a ticket. The surest way not to interest your populace in classical music is not to give them a chance to enjoy it that is so obvious it can't fail to be noticed. You have to make it prominent; you have to make a thing of it. I do not believe this is rocket science. Go and think about it.