“Platform” is one of those words that’s thrown around in publishing so often, we can forget what it actually means. Those who have yet to be published worry their platform isn’t wide enough, and those who are hope that by being published their platform will grow even larger.
Luckily for authors, in this new age of social media, building and sustaining a platform is easier than ever. Twitter and Facebook allow authors to connect with readers; blogging allows them to further their reach by spreading and archiving their knowledge. Whether an author’s expertise is in gardening, taxidermy or mixology, there’s a niche waiting to be tapped.
OpenSky claims it “provides influencers with the tools they need to merchandise, introduce, and sell products they connect with to their audiences.” In layman’s terms, they are a better version of the Amazon affiliate program; better in that it’s not OpenSky’s products you’re selling, you get a bigger cut, a pretty online shop, etc etc. It also – and this is the best part – allows “shopkeepers” to sell products they themselves recommend.
It’s a trust thing.
“Next time you’re thinking about purchasing some organizational containers, who are you going to trust, a bored dude in a polo shirt at the local superstore or the Org Junkie?”
This is the thinking behind OpenSky: sellers don’t just jump into having a store right away. If you’re peddling shit right off the bat you look like a salesperson rather than a real person with a genuine recommendation. Again it’s all about trust, folks. Just like you can’t get a nonfiction book published without some sort of platform, you shouldn’t set up shop before having a following that trusts your opinion.
I realize this is the Platform Catch-22, but think of it this way:
You have a book. You market book. Book does well. Eventually people forget about it. You write another book. The end.
Before people forget about it, you get into the whole social media groove. You develop a following. You start a blog (let’s say your book is about crafty singles). You blog about cool crafts for singles. Your following gets bigger. Your book, even though it’s been out for a while, continues to do well. You open up shop and recommend/sell your favorite crafty products. You make some more money. You write another book. All the while people never forget about you and your platform expands exponentially.
As Mary Ann Naples, former literary agent and Open Sky’s VP, Development, told me, “Think Martha Stewart.”
Okay, so you probably won’t be the next Martha Stewart. Sorry. But Martha Stewart isn’t just her books or her show or her magazine. Martha Stewart is a brand that stems from the trust she’s built up over time. Capisce?
Kath Younger, of Kath Eats Real Food, is one of the more successful shopkeepers with OpenSky (she also went to Davidson, my alma mater. Go Cats!).
“It’s definitely something that works better for someone with an already large readership rather than just some random person,” explains Younger. “You have to have a platform other than OpenSky to talk about your products, otherwise no one would know you were there.”
Now, with Kath’s blog traffic at almost a million visitors/month, she doesn’t need to worry much about platform. But she makes a good point; OpenSky isn’t just another affiliate program.
Author and wildly successful food blogger Michael Ruhlman uses his shop as an addition to his writing; OpenSky helps grow and sustain his platform, it doesn’t create it. Ruhlman actually wrote a great post on why he chose to open up shop:
I receive thousands of emails each month, many from strangers asking what kind of knives they should buy or where can they get this or that product I’ve mentioned in a post. Now there is a way for me to connect with those people on a broader scale and to recommend all kinds of products that I personally love.
As Naples noted, “Even though this is a very old idea, it is also very new.”
People don’t expect authors to sell things beyond books. They don’t expect bloggers to have a store that is truly their own. The models that have existed up until now have not been personal and authentic: they have been purely about monetization strategy. But the OpenSky platform enables creative people to do something new with their passion: add value for their audience with commerce while also earning money for themselves.
Open Sky is a new startup, so there are some kinks. Both Younger and Ruhlman complain there aren’t enough product options, but in the few months they’ve been using the site, both have noticed incredible changes.
“I watched OpenSky grow from a seedling and everything is getting easier,” say Younger. “It’s more official, it’s streamlined better and has been getting a lot more organized. I’ve seen this company go from concept to reality.”
A few authors are among the growing community using OpenSky to supplement their income, expand their brand/platform and – most importantly – share things they love with loyal readers. And while Open Sky may be relatively new, I see it doing some seriously awesome things for authors.
Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.