Monday, December 31, 2012

Passive Discoverability. WTF?

Passive discoverability? I thought that only worked with Claymores and punji sticks.

When I was reading Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s Book Publishing Predictions for 2013 on the Smashwords Blog, there was nothing revolutionary there until I got down near the end and read the words ‘passive discoverability.’ I’ve never heard that term before. This story has been extensively re-posted and re-blogged. I went looking for a sensible definition of the term.

Mark talks about ‘viral catalysts’ in his Secrets to E-Book Publishing Success, which I have read. He’s saying that ‘passive discoverability’ and ‘viral catalysts’ are the key to marketing books in the near future.

But what the hell was he talking about? Was he really saying what I thought he was saying? Is he saying, “Publish your book and then don’t do anything?”

Also, are other expert sources correct when they say that ‘spamming’ on Twitter, posting on Facebook and other social platforms, doing author interviews, swapping blog posts, signing up to review books on Goodreads and Shelfari, giving writing tips, and all that sort of thing really doesn’t help?

If so, what a relief. I was getting sick of it, also all that crap about being nice to everyone all the time, and respecting people of all different crackpot beliefs, all sorts of kooky and odd-ball cultures…it was getting a bit much. And it’s not really me, is it?

It’s not really me. ‘Cause I just don’t give a rat’s ass, when you get right down to it.

But honestly, folks, it’s going to be ever so hard not to do it, when everyone else seems to be doing it, and by their own eminently-trustworthy and genuinely-cheerfully enthusiastic accounts, they appear to be enjoying some success. My heart sank when I read those words, ‘passive discoverability.’

Was it all for nothing then?

Previously, in ‘The Law of Rapidly Diminishing Returns,’ I have speculated that while at first an author might sell a few books, over time your small social media market pool is saturated—everyone who wants to buy your book has already done so, and therefore you have to keep clicking on new followers, making new friends, and signing up for new platforms to the point where it no longer makes sense in terms of the time spent to do so. Where once you had a thousand friends and sold ten books in a month, (your first month,) now you need ten thousand friends to sell a hundred books, (in your first month,) and then you need a million friends to sell a thousand books…in your first month, with rapidly diminishing returns after that.

So what the heck is ‘passive discoverability?’

Pit full of punji sticks.
I Googled around and here’s what I found. Passive discoverability has one major application in the information technology sense. It’s a way of scanning your own network to check for security breaches.

Basically, you scan your network and look for changes. If you didn’t make those changes, somebody else did. It requires an extensive and accurate network mapping system. Clearly that doesn’t really apply here.

There were other entries. Like this one from Digital Body Language. Here the author is saying that the proper use of search engine optimization will help your story come up in active searches, (without you bringing it to a wider audience by cross-posting, or spamming your Facebook friends.) But in a more subtle sense, it’s a way of linking a change of perception to another story that might be passed on by word of mouth, surely the most effective form of advertising and promotion.

The key thing to understand is that it has to be somebody else’s mouth.

Techniques of passive discoverability include:

Having your books available on as many platforms as possible.

Good covers and good blurbs.

Books in a genre that people actually want to read.

Good reviews. See: How to sell ebooks on iTunes from Smashwords Blog. (My only question is how to reconcile this with passive discoverability.)

So you need:

Proper tags and key words in product description.

Use of key words in blog posts, assuming you have links to books in the blog—see right column.

The regular addition of fresh, new, original content to your blog or website.

The regular publication of new books.

It can still include posting your informative, entertaining or useful blog content on as many sites as possible, where it can be discovered.

It still includes building up an audience, even though passive discoverability doesn’t rely on active tweeting of direct links to books and or other products. The very fact that my Twitter bio has a link to my blog brings traffic. A small percentage of new followers come to see who I am. Some stay to read a story, and no doubt some click on the odd book…just to see what I am doing as much as anything.

So that’s what they mean when they say passive discoverability.

Portent describes older advertising models as ‘interruptions,’ which is certainly true of TV and radio, perhaps to a lesser extent newspapers, which are all ‘up front’ (not so linear,) and also divided into sections.

It’s about giving people what they want, and showing them that there’s plenty more cool stuff here as well.

According to Portent, “…passive discoverability is about having a conversation, not yelling…”

And let’s be honest. Passive discoverability worked just fine when we were young and strong and good looking and enjoying the dating scene in a previous life…no it didn't.

By the way, if you really loved me you would re-post, re-tweet, and click on them social media buttons.

Comments are always welcome, or if you have any other suggestions, please feel free to do so.

Special Bonus Section.

Writing tip: never be boring. Marketing tip: be nice to everybody. No matter how much it sucks.

AND; Here’s how to go from three hits a day on your blog to an average of 200. Does it sell books? It’s hard to say without some control blogs and un-promoted books to compare it to.

Probably not, though.

Photos: Top, Wiki Commons, centre, Joe Loong, National Museum of the Marine Corps, bottom, author photo.


  1. Some thoughts:

    1. According to a (rather old now) study from the American Booksellers Association, the two largest factors contributing to a reader's "Buy" decision are "Familiar with the author" and "Recommendation by a trusted friend." Basically - "I read them before" and "My friend said I'd like the book." Those two factors account for some astonishingly large percentage of purchase decisions. Something over 70%. Everything else combined is less than those two (and I wish I could find that article now).

    2. You picked up the most important element in passive (meaning "I'm not doing anything") discoverability: "The key thing to understand is that it has to be somebody else’s mouth."

    3. Social media runs on social capital. The problem is that I don't hold the wallet. Every person I come in contact with is in charge of the account. As long as I have a positive balance with that person, I'm good. When it goes in the hole, so do I.

    4. "Yes" is conditional. As long as I maintain that "yes" I can be adding social capital into the wallet with that reader. The corollary is that any given post can result in both "yes" and "no" and I have no way to determine who sees the yes and who sees the no.

    5. This is a problem: "It’s about giving people what they want, and showing them that there’s plenty more cool stuff here as well." It's based on the fallacy that you know what they want. See point 4 above.

    6. For me (and it's probably different for you because people, man, people) my readers care about one - and only one - thing. New books. Books they can buy. Stories they can tell other people about. Nothing else matters as much to them - or to me - than making sure I do everything in my power to give them what they want. It's not blog posts. It's not tweets. It's not cracker-jack box stories in an email. It's a buy-link on Amazon. Full stop.

    7. By giving them what they want, they talk about it. Having a few thousand readers talking about your book to their friends is a hell of a lot more effective than putting a blog post up or buying an ad or tweeting another cat video or fail blog.

    8. By not giving them all those things, I cut down on the number of chances to get a no. When I do put out a message, the people who have been waiting patiently all this time get the one message I know they want. News that the book is available.

    That's passive discoverability and I've been using it for ten years now. It works a treat but it's cheap, pretty easy, and it frees up a lot of time to actually write. Of course, I see those as good things.


  2. As a followup

    NOTE TO SELF: Read the damn date

    Well played, Mr Shalako. Well played.


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