Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

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Shelley
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Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by Shelley » Wed Sep 27, 2017 1:08 pm

Hi All

I thought I'd share a recent learning experience I've had with marketing my poetry. Last weekend here in Maryborough was the annual open house and garden, when our oldest heritage homes and commercial premises are open to the public.

The local gift store which stocks my poetry merchandise is located in historic Woodstock House which is in the CBD and located on the walking route between two of the premises that were being opened to the public. There were also heritage-themed walking tours of the CBD and other events happening in the same vicinity.

So the plan was for me to take advantage of this opportunity and position myself in period costume in the courtyard of Woodstock House between 10 am and 3 pm on the big day - Saturday. As well as my "Lady of Lines" poetry book and "Australian Journey" CD, I had other original poetry merchandise on display - individual poem booklets, bookmarks - and from my collaboration with a local graphic artist, teatowels and frameable A4 prints. Prices started at $3 and ranged up to $20, so we're not talking sheep stations.

The event was advertised with posters at local shopping centres and on Facebook, where it was shared on community pages and by various other individuals and businesses (including the store that stocks my merchandise). The responses and comments on Facebook were very encouraging. I was also able to get myself interviewed on ABC local radio on the morning in question. I have a reasonably high profile locally because of involvement in various historical events and regular poetry spots on the radio, so I prepared plenty of stock "just in case". Signs and sandwich boards on both sides of Woodstock House proclaimed the event.

What was the result? About 6 people turned up all day - all casual passersby with no prior knowledge of me or my poetry or my merchandise stall. I sold one teatowel and one frameable A4 print - total takings for the day $24.

I know I'm not alone in having these sorts of experiences - and I'm not sharing the story in a spirit of whinging or complaining - just presenting the facts. But it seems that more and more, people are reluctant to outlay money on bush poetry. They love to hear it around the campfire or in the pub (for free), but that's as far as it goes.

Anyway, here's a photo ...
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Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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David Campbell
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Re: Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by David Campbell » Fri Sep 29, 2017 11:15 am

Very frustrating, Shelley, and an experience that quite a few of us can probably identify with in one form or another. You prepare, you organise, but all to no avail. As you say, people seem more interested in listening to bush poetry than reading it. I took copies of the Melbourne Books anthology "Award winning Bush Verse and Stories 2103" to Tamworth a few years ago and couldn't sell even one of them. Great photo, though!

Cheers
David

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keats
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Re: Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by keats » Fri Sep 29, 2017 7:12 pm

Yes, the ABPA was formed on the back of Performance Poetry. If people cannot hear it, they are very unlikely to buy it. The performance poets who go out every week and take the poetry to the people first hand are selling their merchandise very well. We get abused for not supporting the ABPA (???????) yet we travel and spend copious hours performing to huge audiences to promote Bush Poetry, but are cut down by our own members for apparently not being true to Tradition. That is why you rarely hear from the Poets who attract hundreds, sometimes thousands of people to come and hear Bush Poetry. Unfortunately in the eyes of the 'new' ABPA we are nothing but pests and third rate writers. Go figure.

Neil

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Shelley
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Re: Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by Shelley » Sat Sep 30, 2017 9:24 am

Hi Neil

Your comments are quite intriguing. I am truly astonished that anyone would accuse you of not supporting ABPA - you are our magazine editor, after all!

As for differing opinions and attitudes - well, I guess that's a fairly common feature in clubs and associations across the board. However it is disappointing if there is discrimination in bush poetry circles - because I would have thought that our strength is in our diversity. We'd be a pretty boring bunch if we were all carbon copies of each other!

We all have different approaches, different styles - and probably, different reasons for being involved with bush poetry in the first place. Some are writers, some performers, some readers and listeners - and some a combination of all of those. There is no reason why the ABPA umbrella can't shelter us all, as every member contributes to the promotion of our craft, in his or her own way.

For example, I have been asked why I focus quite a bit on local history in my writing - and why Rod and I often perform in period costume, as opposed to more traditional "bush poet" attire. The simple answer is - it works in Maryborough! Most of our poetry performances are local, where there is a huge focus on the history of our region. Therefore we often have the chance to become involved in heritage-themed events - with poetry (and clothes) suited to the occasion. We've made it our trademark - and hopefully, some of those who see and hear us may be interested enough to explore bush poetry further.

I am delighted that you are having success with merchandising, and I hope that is the case for everyone who makes a living from bush poetry. Having talked to a couple of others recently, I suspected times might be lean for all of us when it came to product sales, so it's good to know there are still people out there who are happy to add poetry books and CDs to their personal libraries.

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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David Campbell
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Re: Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by David Campbell » Sat Sep 30, 2017 11:14 am

Well said, Shelley.

Here’s another perspective on what you’ve written, Neil. You, a performer, are magazine editor, one of the most influential roles in the ABPA. Greg, a performer, is Webmaster. Brenda, a performer, is Promotions Officer and, along with Shelley (another performer) runs the Facebook page. In fact, most of those who hold official positions in the ABPA have performing as part of their repertoire.

The home page of this website is highlighting Mel and Susie on tour in Lightning Ridge, Andrew Hull performing in Bourke, Brenda and Hal on Texas Longhorn Wagon Tours north of Charters Towers, and Greg at the Matilda Country Tourist Park in Winton. The link to the ABPA Facebook page brings up photos promoting (among others): Robyn Sykes in Yass; Ray Essery (ABPA Vice President), Gary Fogarty, and Clarrie Weller at the Widgee Bush Balladeers festival; you, Marco Gliori and Ray at the Outback Festival in Winton; Col Milligan at the Oracles of the Bush in Tenterfield…and that’s only in the last week or so. In your editorials you have a ready-made opportunity to promote the performance side of things, and you do it regularly, as does Tom (another performer) in his President’s Reports. In the June/July issue, for example, Tom wrote:

I would also like to acknowledge some of our other travelling performing poets, namely...Ray Essery, Gary Fogarty, Neil McArthur, Brenda Joy, Mel and Susy, Bill Kearns, Jack Drake, Robyn Sykes, Rhonda Tallnash, Marco Gliori, Dave Proust, Murray Hartin, Carol Heuchan and Jason Roweth, and all others that I have not mentioned, who are currently travelling and performing to audiences. You truly are modern day disciples, in taking the written word out and preaching to the masses. Along with our contemporary writers, you are the lifeblood of Australian Bush Poetry today, and on behalf of the ABPA, I would like to take this opportunity to honor you and commend you for the wonderful work you do.

So what is this “new” ABPA you’re talking about, the one which regards performers as “pests and third rate writers”? Who is abusing you and cutting you down? It seems to me that, on the contrary, the travelling performers are right at the forefront of ABPA activities and get plenty of publicity and appreciation for their “copious hours” of performing.

David

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Shelley
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Re: Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by Shelley » Sat Sep 30, 2017 2:35 pm

Thanks for those comments, David - because they give me the chance to do a "shout out" on behalf of Brenda and myself as ABPA Facebook editors.

We endeavour to post details of all types of upcoming poetry events which involve or are of interest to ABPA members. In addition, we share photos of recent events and activities. We try to post every day, and we mostly source our material from the Facebook news feeds of our members and others.

As you can imagine, this takes quite a bit of time and effort - and although we do our best, items are sometimes inadvertently missed. So one excellent way that members can support us and help us to publicise their endeavours on Facebook is to email information to promotions@abpa.org.au along with photo/s, poster or weblink as applicable.

Please don't think your event or activity is too small or localised to be of interest - because we'd love to share your news, and Facebook is proving to be a good way to reach the wider community.

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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keats
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Re: Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by keats » Thu Oct 12, 2017 6:36 am

This debate came to a quick stall. There seems to be only a handful of regular visitors to this site nowadays. But I have been discussing this subject with fellow poets and was astonished to find that what little finances our struggling Association have are now being put into an Anthology of Bush Poetry. This has obviously not been thought through very well, as in the past it has already been tried and failed....miserably. And when printing costs were much lower, and Bush Poetry at the height of it's resurgence during that period. Guess what. Nobody was purchasing copies. What were they buying? Individual books from the poets who struck a chord with the listener. I recall Frank Daniel running around trying to unload back copies for $2 (or free as 'promotion') in some cases. I recall his statement that 'that's the last time we'll waste money like that!' Yet here we are again. At a time when we can barely stay afloat financially, and are having shook raffles to raise money for prizes to give ourselves at the Tamworth Performance Competition who no one will sponsor anymore, and for a book of poems that the ABPA intends to sell.........how? And at what profit margin?

But we have only a small handful of members who even seem to care enough to come here and debate it.

Anyway, just a couple of bob's worth.

Neil

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Gary Harding
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Re: Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by Gary Harding » Fri Oct 13, 2017 9:49 am

Shelley, you have obviously gone to so much trouble to do that lovely display. I share your disappointment though with attendance. If you had six people attend and you sold $24 worth of merchadise then I think that is an excellent result and speaks volumes for the quality of what you are selling! There is less discretionary money these days in people's pockets so I reckon that you did well!!

I will try and contribute something general to the discussion...

May I please start by digressing into the philosphy behind self-publishing because that determines price and hence sales... and thus HOW one outlets poetry books.

Begin by deciding if you are fundamentally

1. publishing with the aim of making a profit. This implies that if no profit is made, the exercise has an element of failure attached, or

2. trying to carve (at your own cost) a small but permanent niche in the field of Australian Traditional poetry. Getting your work down in book or booklet form and "out there" such that ideally it should outlive you. A fun and gratifying and noble exercise. Statutory deposit law means your book resides in National and State libraries too. What a buzz! (ensure that a book is gifted to your local library)

I would think that the profit objective may be difficult to achieve. If one can "cover costs" then that has huge bragging rights in itself!
I prefer the second Objective. Doing it for love of poetry, and living forever through one's writing..

When I published a poetry book many years ago, Gordon and Gotch elected to distribute it so that it found its way in to a huge number of outlets. They were great supporters of Australiana. I had to travel around to all the Myer stores and do book signings. Yep, also went to the local markets and set up a table... no problems.

So to me, the "return" was measured not only by sales volume but the fun in doing all that sort of stuff. My gut feel is that I covered costs (I think) but if I didn't then the balance was made up in sheer Fun.

One of the best places for selling (off-loading?) books was at the local markets around Christmas time. The gift market. Set up a table with a modest and not overwhelming display (book it with the organisers first!), look poor but neat, smile, and off you go. Work the markets. Get known.. chat to people, sign the book and personalise it.. ".. and who would you like me to inscribe it to..?" and if you have any local shops selling it, price it the same. If not, add that Christmas premium!! :)

Give value for money though. Under-price if anything.. but not too much.

My rems (remainders) I constantly outlet to the local/tourist market here. I front up with a carton of forty (signed) books to a couple of restaurants with gift shops attached and say "here is a box of forty books.. free... but we have to agree the selling price is $5" That way I get the pleasure of knowing that my writing, average as it may be at best, is sitting on a shelf in someone's home... or having a coffee cup resting on it?

I could talk on about the personal benefits of publishing, but I reckon that just getting it out there is what counts. At present there are ten copies of my old book listed by secondhand sellers on Abebooks.com. What a buzz!! Yes it is re-selling.. but it is being sold just the same. In the background.

So one can market it for a few dollars on eBay with all the hassles that entails and at least get exposure, go to markets at Christmas, have local gift shops stock your book at a low price.... or even go to the local newsagent and convenience store and ask if they will feature your book on the counter at Christmas time for a week! They can only say no... but likely not. (Unless you have granted sole rights to a local gift shop.. mention it to them in any case).

I believe that there are also outlets for rems who bulk buy for nothing, but I know little about them.

Not being involved in performance poetry these days, I can see that it is an obvious steady outlet if you do public recitations.

ALSO... I remember Lou Richards was following on behind me with his own slot, signing his book at a Myer store. He was the football guy.. ex-player and commentator. When he saw my book was poetry he started to sling off at poets being fairies and poofs or some such.. (that was in the days when such folk were not revered like they are today). He might have been able to take a mark in footy, but in picking on me he chose his mark badly. Let me say that I was able to straighten him out on the subject. Lou was famous for having a big mouth.. spoke without thinking. I suppose he was just trying me on.... no hard feelings :)

You meet all sorts at the markets too. All nice people though.!! unlike Lou... :)

Shelley, you are doing really well!!! I also listen to Rick occasionally on ABC radio and your time there should have earned you lots of fame.. and sales! Good luck!

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:25 pm

I can relate to much of what you say, Shelley. Poetry is not easy to sell.

In 1984 I released an audio cassette of original poems and songs - mostly poems. I ordered 250 copies from the studio, and was somewhat annoyed that he could only give me 80 in time for the Port Fairy Folk Festival. I took my 80 cassettes proudly down to the festival - and came back with 74! That was my first lesson in selling poetry...

I definitely agree with Neil that the best way to sell books is immediately after a performance. I have sold quite a few books over the years at Poets' Breakfasts. I think it is also true that humorous poems sell books much better than serious ones. I have a book which contains a humorous poem about the difficulty of selling poetry books - all very circular, but that one poem has sold me quite a few books over the years!
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

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Shelley
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Re: Challenges of Poetry Merchandising

Post by Shelley » Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:49 pm

Thanks for your positive comments and interesting suggestions Gary. Stephen, your experience is also quite enlightening.

An intriuging postscript ... the local outlet which stocks my merchandise and which hosted my book signing has reported record sales of my products during the month. So maybe people did respond to my sales pitch after all ... just not on the day in question!

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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