By Ujeena Rana
It’s fairly clear that without marketing and promotion, survival in today’s global economy has zero probability. Today, even art, literature, and theatre which were conventionally thought of as unadulterated creative domains kneel before the demands of commerce to market and sell their artistic output. Who sells will thrive dictates the market.
Book tours, book signing, book reading, participation in book festivals, interviews — are some techniques writers employ to market their books. God forbid if you are a shy writer! The call of the hour is that a writer also needs to aggressively dedicate time for marketing of her/his book. S/he cannot just rely on the attempts of the publisher or the strength of the content. In order to appeal to consumers, writers need to constantly engage possible readers. Case in point is Hari Bansha Acharya, the celebrated comedian, who, at the time of writing this article, is passionately engaged in the marketing of his new book Hari Bahadur.
An artist is no less than an entrepreneur working with unflagging hunger to create a product and must adopt the role of strategist and negotiator to market and sell. Some fundamentalists and romantics (read: artists) reason that their art is “not for sale” and that they will not bow down at the pedestal of the bourgeoisie. Not to disturb these artists from their reverie but marketing gurus swear by the statement— if you want to survive in the art world, you must market your brand and sell the product.
Amidst the debate over the benefits of marketing and the notion of artists resorting to marketing tactics not sitting well with many, traditionalists maintain art should be distant from the shallowness of self-promotion.
When you place a Facebook ad, you look desperate, when you send an event invitation to all contacts in your email account, you are compromising your image. “In college, I was one of those purists who believed that art is not something to be sold,” reminisces Akanchhya Karki. Along with Gunjan Dixit, Karki has now co-founded Katha Ghera. Two friends, both graduates from Christ University, Bangalore, inform about their entrepreneurial venture, “Katha Ghera is a creative space where we wish to work as independent theatre practitioners and produce plays.” Running the company has taught them invaluable life lessons. Karki shares, “In the world that we live in, it’s hard to make art for art’s sake and not worry about marketing. As a creator, I should know how to sell my art because only then my passion can also be my bread and butter.”
Echoing the thought, Suman Shakya, entrepreneur, consultant and trainer states, “For those who have to make living off their art, it is good to realise and understand at the outset that they are running a business”.
Treating her art as commodity did not come easy to writer Shiwani Neupane.“I had a really difficult time treating my book as a product and selling it but I did it anyways because it was expected,” confides Neupane who has two books to her name, Monica and Crossing Shadows.
Earlier theatre artists’ worries were limited; it began and ended with perfecting their acting prowess, now, tactfully playing the art of promotion and selling their creation comes in tow. They scratch their heads in apprehension over sponsorship, ticket sales and venue. If people do not learn about the staging of the theatrical production, it would, essentially, be disservice to the play itself. “The 2017 production of “Yonika Kathaharu”, which was a charity show, had Trisara, a popular restaurant in Lazimpat as the venue. “With the ticket price a little expensive and the performance space very new, we had to make sure our promotional tactics were on point. Sending out personalised emails (as well as individual messages to Facebook friends) to a plethora of organisations as well as individuals, sticking posters at every popular and not-so popular place around town and asking family and friends to help us spread the word were a few ways we religiously practiced,” shares Dixit.
But the questions making rounds of the artistic world are – Can a reclusive artist not survive in today’s capitalistic world? Does a writer who does not make many public appearances fade away? Can the attention of makers only center on creation?
“An artist or a writer can shy away from promotional events given that they have a capable marketing team to promote their work,” Bidhata KC, an artist, sheds light into the matter. First of all, information pertaining to the book, art work and performance has to be disseminated. If prospective readers, buyers and audiences are not informed and substantial interest not generated; there is very little chances of recognition or sales.
To a host of artists, promotion and marketing of their exhibition is analogous to selling their soul to Lucifer. KC feels a dearth of art writers and curators in Nepal. The absence of proper branding mechanism dictates that artists create, promote and sell their work all by themselves. “It is difficult to self-promote. Many creative people may not necessarily be able to articulate well about their works. For that you need an agency or professional who understands your work and the marketing strategy required to promote it,” illuminates KC. Her distress is shared by Neupane, “I honestly hate self-marketing. It is not fun and I’d rather let the work speak for itself but as a new writer, it was necessary not only to make myself available to the press but also to create a hype for my books.”
Many artists today are active on social media – Facebook and Instagram – to promote their upcoming exhibitions. They also maintain public relations with the media. “When I was studying journalism at Columbia University, we were in one sense taught to self-brand. As journalists, we were required to open twitter accounts, we were taught what Facebook public profiles were for, and were given lessons on social media etiquette. Branding yourself doesn’t mean posting a hundred times a day. It means finding your niche and sticking to it,” underlines Neupane.
The predicament is—willingly or forced, everyone takes a plunge into the deep marketing pool but they do so without thorough know-how. Some of the plans work and some don’t. “Both times we did the Nepali production of Vagina Monologues ‘Yoni ka Kathaharu’, we got one thing right which was getting a design consultant (Kaushal Sapkota) who was sensitive, aware and accommodating. So the posters always caught one’s eye. We also made it a point to promote portrait shots of actors clad in red and pink prior to the show and that caught a lot of buzz. The title and subject itself raised a lot of eyebrows and hate comments with ingrained misogyny and now that I look back, I wish we hadn’t entertained those cyber bullies,” reflects Karki. To that Dixit adds, “We should have contacted more newspapers and magazines to help us promote as well as document the event.” Neupane shares her learning. “I, in fact, would probably use a third person to do marketing through my own social media channels, if such a thing was possible.”
Ankur Jhunjhunwala runs Digital Marketing Nepal which handles digital marketing for his clients. “Online marketing costs peanuts compared to the old school way of marketing products and services and also the reach out is exceptionally strong compared to paper ads and billboards,” shares Jhunjhunwala.
Although, we proclaim to be in the digital era, there is absence of digital marketing literacy; in fact most clients that approach social media marketers still prefer to go with only Facebook and Instagram ads even though Jhunjhunwala states that he also recommends google ads and LinkedIn ads to his clients. “In fact, a little bit of tweaking and a whole lot of search engine optimisation can assist in disseminating the message to a larger audience,” he informs.
To build a following and profit from it is imperative in today’s world. Therefore, everyone swears by ‘aggressive marketing strategies’. So, unless you are a brand in your own right, you need to persistently market, promote and sell yourself. One needs to have an army of fans who will buy your book the moment it hits the store. “Good products will automatically find buyers. Yes, it will, but not enough buyers to make profits and sustain,” elucidates Shakya. “Personal branding and marketing often go hand in hand. So it is not uncommon for the creator to sell his own creation. However, I do believe that once you have established a brand for yourself, self-marketing becomes irrelevant,” remarks Neupane. A champion of branding Shakya explains, “Brands always pull buyers. People flock to a concert, show or an exhibition if an artist can build his image through proper public relations and media support.”