What Dickens Did for Direct
Charles Dickens the Victorian era author, should be considered the Great-grandfather of Direct.
What Dickens did for the business of direct marketing is history.
For example, Dickens gave us:
* “Buy One, Get one Free”
* Continuity and club programs
* White mail
* Seasonality studies
* Chat rooms
* Contrast pricing
* Installment payments
* Market research
* Customer relationship
And these are just the beginning. To this list you also can add that he was the great-grandfather of soap operas and paperback books.
When Dickens came up with all these innovations he was only 23 years old and had just written “Pickwick Papers,” his first novel.
But no publisher was willing to publish a novel written by a young and unknown author, particularly, with novels out by such well-known authors as William Thackeray (who wrote “Vanity Fair”); the three Bronte sisters, Emily, Anne and Charlotte (who wrote “Jane Eyre”); and George Eliot (whose real name was Mary Ann Evans). Tough competition for a neophyte author.
But Dickens was a creative thinker, and suggested the publisher charge a goodly number of pounds to sell his novel. At this suggestion, the publisher came back with, “Good God, no one would pay a tenth of that even for a Sir Walter Scott novel.”
Marketing strategist Dickens had a n answer for that, too, saying, “I will write a long novel and sell it in 20 installments. Each month I will write just three chapters, which you can sell for one shilling per month.”
The publisher threw up his hands saying, “At one shilling, I will go broke. It costs me three shillings just to produce the book. At your price of one shilling, I would lose two shillings a month.”
Marketing tactician Dickens had an answer for this too, holding up a book and saying, “Your covers are made of wood pulp, and this is very expensive. For my books, print the covers in paper, the same as you use for the inside pages.”
Hence, the term paperback.
Then Dickens did the arithmetic for the publisher. “Add it up,” he said. “Twenty installments of three chapters each selling at one shilling each amounts to 20 shillings, and all you get for a book now is three shillings. You are going to make a lot more money selling books my way.”
Direct marketers today call Dickens’ proposition contrast pricing and a continuity program payable in convenient and easy monthly installments.
Then Dickens was challenged by the publisher with the question, “What makes you so sure people will come in to buy the second, third and fourth installments?”
“No problem,” Dickens replied. “You cannot bore a reader. I will make each installment so interesting and exciting that people will be throwing money at us to get each installment.”
Direct marketers know that people don’t read advertising. They read what interests them, and sometimes this just happens to be advertising.
So Dickens invented the serialization of the novel, and in so doing, he pioneered testimonials, white papers and market research.
Because the novel was delivered in three chapters a month, readers would respond with letters of complaints, concerns and suggestions. With negative and positive feedback, Dickens would take corrective action. Armed with readers’ opinions, he would slant and adapt each succeeding three chapters to satisfy public opinion and energize the readers to want more. Today’s soap operas capture imagination the same way.
Dickens received fan mail from all over the world. Some were loving testimonials and others suggested the proper ending for his novel. Readers were actively involved
Direct marketers today would call this CRM—customer relationship marketing. And reader involvement.
By sending just three chapters a month, Dickens was able to match his story to the season. In the spring, his chapters would mention the spring flowers people were seeing in their own gardens as they were reading his novel.
Direct marketers call this seasonality.
Now leave it to Dickens to come up with the clincher—the word “free.” Dickens came up with the idea everyone else has followed for more than a century: Of the 20 installments, the customer only bought 19; the 20th installment was free.
Dickens, indeed, was a direct marketer. All authors of the Victorian era copied his strategies and publishing tactics. All of Dickens’ novels, “Davis Copperfield,” “A Christmas Carol,” “A Tale of Two Cities” and others, were sold in easy-to-pay-for installments.
From Victorian times to today, in the year 2004, direct marketers are still using the involvement techniques introduced by Dickens in 1836. He truly is the Great-grandfather of Direct.
Bob Hemmings is president of Hemmings IV Direct, a full-service agency. Hemmings is a member of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Hall of Fame as well as a seminar leader for the DMA’s Basics of Direct Marketing course. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.