Books are Not Mass Media

A hundred years ago, the most powerful media in the world were newspapers.

Newspaper writers and editors were society’s thought-leaders and political kingmakers. The day-to-day influence of a major newspaper was unchallenged, no matter what city or country. They were the first truly mass media, defined as broadly available to everyone at a nominal cost and holding an extremely high level of influence on society.

In the 1920’s, the dawn of radio eventually led to the first radio network later in the decade. Radio quickly became another mass media.

After World War II, television began its rise and began to dominate. For almost a half-century, the era of mass media pointed millions in whatever direction they wanted.  Newspapers, radio and television ruled.

Everything else? It was “niche” media.

Maybe some magazines and similar periodicals were considered mass media, but other than the now mostly-extinct news magazines, this type of media is niche media aimed at groups of readers who gather around a common interest.

Today, a case could be made all mass media is a thing of the past, replaced by niche media, with audiences carved up into hundreds and thousands of little pieces by all the media choices.

Social media is the quintessential niche media, tailored to personal taste and filtered to allow only those messages desired by the user.

But one fact remains; books have never been mass media. Books are niche media, each focusing on a different subset of people.

In the United States, the average traditionally published book sells around three to four thousand copies. This translates to about one person per county reading it.  Not exactly mass communication.

The Christian community in any region, is an interesting and complicated set of groups. No one media covers all Christians any more than all Christians gather at one kind of church on a Sunday morning…or Saturday, or whenever, or use one certain Bible translation over another, worship the same way, etc.

If your desire is to reach everyone with your book, you should be applauded for your initiative.

But it won’t happen.

No message is for everyone and no media reaches everyone. If you aim at everyone, you miss everyone.  The shotgun metaphor is not applicable when it comes to effective communication.

Just as there are dozens and dozens of Christian church denominations, books from Christian authors are written for various groups and sub-groups.

Go to a mainline Christian protestant denomination conference and you will hear different speakers than you would find at a Catholic conference.

There are conservative Christian authors and more liberal Christian authors. Depending on where you are on the spectrum of theology/politics/church- affiliation, your book is limited in some way for publishers and readers who would consider it.

Every author has a niche, so embrace it, because books are not mass media and your book is not for everyone. Find your audience and write to it, and remember, “everyone” is not an audience.

A final word about Christian publishing…

In the 1960’s, communications guru Marshall McLuhan’s assertion “The medium is the message,” was a powerful reminder of the role of media in communication. The medium in which a message was communicated was part of the actual message. The power of mass media to influence added to every message.

“It must be true, I read it in the newspaper.”

I would assert this is less-true today because we are surrounded and saturated by media, almost all of it pre-filtered by each of us.

Maybe, in modern societies where we swim in on-demand communications all day long, the actual content created by someone is most important.

Maybe now, “The message is the message.”

And that’s a good thing, because Christian authors have a great message.

15 Responses to Books are Not Mass Media

  1. Boni Daniel August 29, 2017 at 3:39 am #

    Powerful message. God never designed one man to dominate the preaching/writing the gospel. It is God that gives the message and platform..

    • Damon J. Gray August 29, 2017 at 5:37 am #

      This is an insightful reply. Indeed it is applicable to having four “gospels” in the New Testament, each tailored toward a specific group of people.

  2. Janine Rosche August 29, 2017 at 3:41 am #

    Good word! Thanks!

  3. Peter Holtvluwer August 29, 2017 at 5:27 am #

    Thanks Dan. Being realistic about the target audience is also liberating in a way for then you don’t have to worry about satisfying or meeting the needs of everyone, just the folks you are writing for. A narrower focus is good for us writers – and hopefully produce better writing:)!

  4. Kristi Woods August 29, 2017 at 5:33 am #

    Several of my writing friends and I have created virtual avatars for our blogs or books – someone to keep in mind when writing those pages and posts. Dan, your piece this morning reinforces the idea of keeping that niche market in mind – to continue writing to that individual. Good word!

  5. Loretta Eidson August 29, 2017 at 6:00 am #

    So true! Thank you!

  6. Susan Mary Malone August 29, 2017 at 7:33 am #

    This is such a great message, Dan. It’s tough for new writers to see that their books aren’t for everybody. You have to find your niche, as you say, and focus on that audience.
    Great advice!

  7. Shulamit August 29, 2017 at 7:40 am #

    Finding one’s audience and writing to it is important. But I don’t think it is separate from the medium. Perhaps “the medium is PART of the message” might sit better? With apologies to McLuhan.

    The medium of a book published by a Christian publishing house, does influence how that message is taken by the reader. It is both an honor and a responsibility to publish that way, and readers will feel that, whether they like the idea or it grates.

    The medium of a book in one’s hand, read quietly in one’s mind, and not completed in one sitting, is part of the message. It isn’t the same message as what one might get sitting in church listening to “the same message” even if someone read a passage of your book to a congregation in church.

    The medium of books published by a Christian publishing houses, cannot be ignored–it is as much part of finding that niche market and writing to them, as the specific contents of the book.

  8. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 29, 2017 at 7:59 am #

    Mainstream media died in Hue City in February 1968. That was when the news organizations crossed the line from a prime duty of reportage to one of opinion-shaping.

    • PJ August 29, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

      Yes, yes, yes! And we don’t need someone’s opinion. We need the facts.

  9. Cordially Barbara August 29, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    I love that books aren’t mass media. I know the downside is that fewer people might read a certain title, but I also tend to think that mass media is replaced in a blink where some books have longer shelf life.

    • Dan Balow August 29, 2017 at 9:44 am #

      You are right…now there is temporal media vs. more long-term media. Same with the messages…some temporal, some eternal!

  10. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D August 29, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    Great posting, Dan. I agree with you – you are spot on!

  11. Linda Riggs Mayfield August 30, 2017 at 11:59 am #

    “Every author has a niche, so embrace it, because books are not mass media and your book is not for everyone. Find your audience and write to it, and remember, “everyone” is not an audience.” Wow, Dan!

    Once again your post is the answer to a question with which I’m daily wrestling, but I hadn’t even asked you. Someday I hope I can share with you the several pivotal times that has happened, and the outcomes. God is clearly using you in MY life as a writer–I hope that encourages you today as much as it has encouraged me!

    I’ve written novels for three very different niches and tried to find representation or direct publication in one of them, with no success. I’m prepping for another invitation to submit a proposal now. Within the past week, I had actually pulled up the manuscript and considered totally rewriting it to fit a genre/reader demographic that is more popular at the moment–and this is a manuscript a well-known agent already said she “loved” but would not represent only because my online platform was not developed enough, not because it was the wrong niche. Nope. Not doing that. I’ll do another reread to make sure it’s as good as it can be before I submit another proposal, but it is what it is–that’s my niche. I need to keep writing, work on my platform, and find an agent who wants to represent me even if my web page blog doesn’t (yet) have 10K followers. Thanks, Dan! 🙂

  12. Edna Davidsen September 11, 2017 at 2:42 am #

    Dear Dan

    Books are Not Mass Media helped me get my head around what’s special about books compared to other publishing formats.

    The development from newspapers to reading followed by television may have bigger implications than most of us realise.

    I like your observation about “all mass media is a thing of the past”, something is appealing about the niche as I see it.

    One thought I like to add to your excellent description of this topic is the fact that we have different approaches to different medias.

    When I take a book, I’m in a different state of mind than if I were to check my twitter feed.

    No matter how complicated a book is I always get a feeling of being relaxed when I read books.

    It’s not the case with social media.

    Reading blogs gives me some of the same experience because I’m set up to stay on a particular blog, rather than being all around the Internet.

    It was interesting to read your thoughts about how many/few books are published in the United States.

    “One person per country” – says a lot.

    One of the most important points in this blog post for me was where you wrote:
    “No one media covers all Christians any more than all Christians gather at one kind of church on a Sunday morning.”

    We’re different – this is both an opportunity and a challenge.

    Despite all the differences, there’s more that binds us together than what’s setting us apart.

    Christian leaders have an immense job teaching Christians about tolerance and how to embrace people with a different worldview.

    The first rule to create a genuine relationship with a reader or people, in general, must be, as Stephen Covey said it to seek to understand before trying to be understood.

    A great blog post, my favourite line was your last line: “Christian authors have a great message.”

    I’ll share Wednesday 20. September.

    Looking forward to your next blog post!
    Edna Davidsen

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