Seth Godin has posted an article that is getting a lot of tweets and retweets.
It is called A marketing lesson from the apocalypse. His thesis is that preachers can come along generation after generation and convince followers that the Rapture is on hand because of a simple marketing truth:
“Sell a story that some people want to believe. In fact, sell a story they already believe.”
As I thought about this I began to wonder if this is an explanation for why artists are so often “starving”—why fine arts have so often counted on grants and philanthropists rather than sales or box office receipts to survive.
As a professional writer, I can attest to the truth of Godin’s statement. It is much easier to sell a idea for a book if it is much like other ideas that have shown success.
For example, successful self-help books are often repackaged variants on the same self-esteem indoctrination we’ve had all through our lives: dream it and you can be it, if you work hard enough you can make anything happen, it is easy to become rich in America, stop sabotaging yourself… People already believe this. They buy more books that reinforce what they already believe than books that challenge their underlying assumptions. (At least the publishing industry expects them to and invests in literary properties and marketing priorities accordingly.) This is also why we have so many copycat television programs and movies. No one sits down to one of the many CSIs or NCIS or Law and Orders or… because they want their assumptions challenged. They want to see generally what they have come to expect and to be entertained.
It occurred to me that “pre-belief” may mark the difference between “art” and “entertainment.” The job of art is to challenge or expand the audience’s belief, expectation or perspective, while entertainment reinforces it.
This is where my brilliant closing paragraph would go if I had drawn any conclusions from this stream of thought. But that is just what you would be expecting me to do, and I am an artiste…