‘…OF MAKING AND MARKETING WORK THAT LASTS’ part three
by Ryan Holiday
Published by Portfolio
eBook ISBN: 9781101992142
Copyright (c) 2017 by Ryan Holiday
“In 1986, an entrepreneur named Ted Turner bought the movie studios MGM and United Artists for a little over $1.5 billion. Just three months later, struggling under the debt of the two studios, he decided to sell the companies off in pieces, a big chunk of them right back to the person he’d bought them from in what looked like a huge loss. In fact, it was one of the most brilliant moves in the history of the entertainment business. Turner kept MGM’s film library and the television rights to classic films that included blockbusters like Gone with the Wind but was largely made up of a block of solid films like Network, Diner, Shaft, and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Combined, these films would produce more than $100 million a year in revenue, and when Turner would go on to launch channels like Turner Network Television (TNT) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM), they would play nonstop. He built a multibillion-dollar empire on perennial sellers—not only right in front of people’s noses, but while those people were turning ‘up their noses at him. ‘”What do you want with a bunch of old movies no one watches anymore?” they scoffed.
The brilliance of it is that perennial sellers—big or small—not only refuse to die or fade into oblivion; they grow stronger with each passing day. The works of Homer and Shakespeare, along with hundreds of other dead playwrights and philosophers—despite all being available for free online—still sell hundreds of thousands of copies per year. Star Wars isn’t suddenly going to stop making money—in fact, the profits from the franchise are actually now accelerating, some forty years after conception. Nor is every “classic” a towering work of staggering genius. In 2015, catalog albums in the music industry—titles at least eighteen months or older—outsold all new releases for the first time in the history of the music business. The albums your parents grew up listening to, that record you liked in high school, the steady climbers that are just getting going after a slow start—they moved more units than all the chart-topping artists and hot singles combined.
A year and a half—that’s not so long. Compared with what George Lucas or Shakespeare has done, ten years doesn’t seem so long either. So why does it seem to be so hard to do? Why do so few seem to even try? And is this reluctance—or deliberate ignorance—not an opportunity for those of us who are fascinated by these artistic outliers to set out to create our own?
A Lifelong Fascination
When I was a teenager, everything I liked was old. My favorite bands had released their first albums before I was born and were still going strong decades later when I came around (and thankfully, the ones that are still alive still are). I remember picking up The Great Gatsby in high school for the first time and being shocked that something intended to be so timely—about the Jazz Age—could, more than a half century later, still feel so timeless. Even the movies I found myself watching and rewatching weren’t in the theaters; they were on television—the so-called classic films.
Early in my career, I was a research assistant for Robert Greene, whose historic masterwork, The 48 Laws of Power, didn’t hit the bestseller lists until a decade after its release. It has since sold more than a million copies and has been translated into dozens of languages. I would suspect that a hundred years from now people will still be reading it. The first book I worked on was I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, by controversial blogger Tucker Max. It received a $7,500 advance from a small publisher after being rejected by almost every other imprint in the business, yet went on to sell an upwards of 1.5 million copies and spend six consecutive ‘years’ on the bestseller lists. A perennial seller and then some—the book celebrated its ten-year anniversary recently, and still moves roughly three hundred copies week in and week out.
I later became the director of marketing at American Apparel, where the company’s bestselling styles were not new trendy fashion pieces but its classic T-shirts, underwear, and socks. The founder once told me his goal was to make clothes that people years in the future would still be buying in vintage clothing shops. It was this focus on well-made staple products, combined with creative and provocative marketing, that helped American Apparel sell hundreds of millions of garments in its two decades in business.
All of this was my education in the art of the perennial seller—how they work, what goes into them, and why they matter, from both a personal and a business standpoint. I applied this knowledge in the creation of my own company, Brass Check, which has carved out a niche pushing clients toward creating and marketing work to last. Authors we’ve worked with have sold more than ten million books, spent seven hundred weeks on bestseller lists, and been translated into close to fifty languages. Our past media clients, including outlets like the New York Observer and Complex, have become quiet traffic behemoths. One of the startups I advise is a ‘vinyl record club’—the definition of a business model (and, surprisingly, a medium) that has endured.”
How did the movie The Shawshank Redemption fail at the box office but go on to gross more than $100 million as a cult classic?
How did The 48 Laws of Power miss the bestseller lists for more than a decade and still sell more than a million copies?
How is Iron Maiden still filling stadiums worldwide without radio or TV exposure forty years after the band was founded?
Bestselling author and marketer Ryan Holiday calls such works and artists perennial sellers. How do they endure and thrive while most books, movies, songs, video games, and pieces of art disappear quickly after initial success? How can we create and market creative works that achieve longevity?
Holiday explores this mystery by drawing on his extensive experience working with businesses and creators such as Google, American Apparel, and the author John Grisham, as well as his interviews with the minds behind some of the greatest perennial sellers of our time. His fascinating examples include:
” Rick Rubin, producer for Adele, Jay-Z, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who teaches his artists to push past short-term thinking and root their work in long-term inspiration.
” Tim Ferriss, whose books have sold millions of copies, in part because he rigorously tests every element of his work to see what generates the strongest response.
” Seinfeld, which managed to capture both the essence of the nineties and timeless themes to become a modern classic.
” Harper Lee, who transformed a muddled manuscript into To Kill a Mockingbirdwith the help of the right editor and feedback.
” Winston Churchill, Stefan Zweig, and Lady Gaga, who each learned the essential tenets of building a platform of loyal, dedicated supporters.
Holiday reveals that the key to success for many perennial sellers is that their creators dont distinguish between the making and the marketing. The products purpose and audience are in the creators mind from day one. By thinking holistically about the relationship between their audience and their work, creators of all kinds improve the chances that their offerings will stand the test of time.
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author ofTrust Me, Im Lying; The Obstacle Is the Way; Ego Is the Enemy; and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as multi-platinum musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.
This week’s selection ‘PERENNIAL SELLER: THE ART OF MAKING AND MARKETING WORK THAT LASTS’ by Ryan Holiday appears Monday thru Friday and comes to you courtesy of dearreader.com and BurlingtonPublicLibrary.ca Business Online Book Club.