Publish first, create after! Wait, what?
Creating is making the best work possible and making it available to the world.
We often confuse the act of making your creation available to consume and the notion of publishing.
Posting a film online on a social platform is not publishing. Because it is out there for anyone to find doesn’t mean that people will find it. You might get lucky, it happens. Once in awhile in casinos, someone wins the lottery. Casinos are engineered to let a few win, just as social media algorithms are designed to let a few win. Because algorithms change all the time, we see different kinds of content being rewarded. So, publishing your content online and expecting it to hit the charts is like expecting to win every single time in a casino. It isn’t mathematically possible.
Creating the actual object isn’t publishing either. Printing a book is not publishing. Creating a Podcast RSS feed and registering it with all the directories—Spotify, Stitcher, Apple, etc.—isn’t publishing either. Editing a video and uploading it to social media is not publishing. That is simply creating.
“Creating is easy, publishing is much harder.” – Seth Godin
Publishing, on the other hand, is the slow and relentless work of connecting a direct relationship with the audience and delivering the promise made to them. Publishing is asking someone to trust you with their most precious and finite commodity: their time. Publishing is the trust that is created between the publisher and the audience as a result of a promise delivered.
Publishing is knowing how to start small, doing the leg work of finding the early adopters, the smallest viable audience, the ones that will slowly spread the word. Because in the end, truly lasting success is simply word-of-mouth.
If you were tasked to set a forest on fire, chances are you wouldn’t start by trying to set a tree on fire. Chances are, you would start by finding the right place, somewhere in a crack between the rocks where the wind doesn’t blow and the rain doesn’t fall.
You start with a newspaper and matches. You would spend the bulk of your time and energy trying to find the right kind of kindling. It needs to be dry and small. You would get a tiny flame and you would hold your breath, feeding tiny pieces of wood one by one as to not choke it.
The flame grows slightly and, at this point, every second counts. You know that before the kindling is entirely consumed, you need to have larger pieces of wood to catch fire, otherwise all this energy will be wasted and you will have to start over.
Logs don’t catch fire easily. It takes time, effort, and creativity.
The problem is, while algorithms are made to only allow so many fires at a time, traditional publishers seem to be only interested in hits.
The only possible strategy with hits is to purchase thirty pieces of content and send them randomly to the front line, hoping one will find its way across the enemy lines. What happens to the twenty-nine others is simply collateral damage.
The great news is barriers, walls, and gatekeepers are falling and the tools are there for brands and businesses to self-publish and develop their own channels. While the attention is on hits, the long-tail is still wide open, so brands and businesses that are investing in this real estate will win over-time.
What valuable content can you create in a space you can compete in?
There is no point in creating content without a publishing strategy first. Once you have it, you can focus on making it great.
The problem is that most publishers are chasing hits. But they have no idea how to replicate hits. It happens basically by luck. Therefore the more they publish, the more they get a chance at the lottery.
Before the internet, the attention was concentrated. The real estate was extremely competitive but because you could reach hundreds of thousands at the same time in one place, your luck to generate a hit was proportionally higher.
With the internet, that strategy doesn’t work as well. The real estate is infinite and the attention is diluted. If your film is bought by Netflix, what are the odds someone will even notice?
Creators in the hands of old fashioned publishing strategy will suffer from short term hit thinking. But creators don’t need millions to survive. They just need “a thousand” in order to keep creating and still get a chance to play to hit the lottery.
Where is the opportunity? The long tail is wide open. It is possible for creators to change the game and become publishers.
If you create paid content frequently that a fan is willing to pay $100 a year for and you get one new fan per day for three years, that is 1000 fans and $100K a year. That is financial freedom and guess what? You get to still play the million-dollar lottery.