Three orphaned baby skunks arrive at the New York State Wildlife Resources Center in Delmar, NY one week ago. Photo by Eric Francis.
Dear Planet Waves Reader:
I received a lot of responses to my letter from this past weekend -- the one with the baby skunk, exhorting people who are regular visitors to Planet Waves to subscribe to Planet Waves. This letter explained that a very large percentage of readers keep coming back to Planet Waves but don't subscribe. I assume, probably correctly, that the majority of them know that we (partially) support the whole project by subscriptions.
I reminded my readers that people with disposable income who "love" Planet Waves are more likely to spend their money at Starbucks or on leg waxing. This is a basic fact of how Americans in particular spend cash. What I did not say is that according to our research, the longest-term readers are the least likely to subscribe. The more you come back, the less likely you are to spend money at Planet Waves. While many readers return year after year, anyone who has visited for more than six months is highly unlikely to subscribe. This is what our paying customers tell us.
And what I did not say is that for every dollar a subscriber puts in, I donate to Planet Waves, Inc. a dollar from my writing or consulting income, and must therefore overwork. Currently, subscription fees pay for half the total costs of providing our services -- a situation we are working diligently to address.
Some of the letters were friendly and supportive; some of them were angry; some were sad, and reminded me why we have had a comp program for years (free subscriptions for those who need them). I heard from bloggers who said I should be glad to have any readers at all. I heard from a couple of people who don't like my political "diatribes" -- seemingly, my comments on stolen elections and wars for Halliburton profits. I was told I was guilty of putting on a guilt trip. I heard from long-time readers who said they were pulling Planet Waves from their favorites.
I got a few letters from readers who thanked me for prodding them to do what they had long planned to do, for all the years of monthly horoscopes and comp subscriptions, and insisting that my fans support my work as best they can. My accountant congratulated me for setting clear boundaries about money and energy exchange, and reminded me that Skunk medicine is about respect.
And we sold about a month's worth of subscriptions to Planet Waves Weekly in one day. (We usually sell one new subscription a day; Sunday, 25 people signed up.) Some readers said they would take me up on the free bikini line/leg waxing that I offered, in jest but hey it would be fun.
All in all, it was a mixed mail bag, but it WAS indeed a bag of mail, and the discussion is moving -- inside Planet Waves, and with our readers. I learned a quite lot in the past 48 hours.
In this weekend's letter, I did what you supposedly don't ever do in marketing, which is get pissed off or say how you really feel. Marketing is always about kissing ass and selling dreams, then turning up the pressure hard. But therein lies the problem: I am not a "marketer," I am an journalist and astrologer, supposedly entrusted with this rare-to-find thing known as the truth. Yet because we live in an environment called an economy, those of us with a service or a product are compelled to sell that product or service one way or another. The only people I know who like to do it are salespeople -- those who are adepts at the sport of selling.
I've often asked you: what would you have me spend my time, energy and money doing -- coming up with clever ads, or providing something useful for you and the world? I would rather spend my time doing astrological analysis, shutting down toxic buildings or playing my new guitar than trying to convince people to spend a few dollars on a product/project they already say they love.
Every artist, writer, actor or musician struggles with this at some time or another, even the supposedly rich and famous.
Notably, it is often the most sensitive people who are put in the position of having to sell themselves the most aggressively and with the least promise of success. When you have a skill and apply for a job, you do so on the premise that someone needs you, and generally this is true. Once you have a job, generally you keep it for a year or five years or more. As a writer or artist (for example) one is often in the position of having having to do this every day; few people will concede needing your services, and if you're not a "necessity" in this world, watch out -- somebody may go buy a can of peas or a big cup of Starbucks and pass you by.
Then we all watch people who create the least, and accomplish the least, seemingly make the most money. It is taboo to even mention this in our society because if you do, you are supposedly "denying others what is theirs" and thus curse your own prospects for success. The logic is, "If I deny Donald Trump an extra billion, I will make the god of capitalism angry and therefore I will starve." Yet what we don't see is that this IS the problem: our economic system is designed to be unfair. It was designed by the people with the most, to make sure they keep it.
I will come back to this topic of macro-economics again. It's too interesting to ignore, and too central to both our environmental situation and our sexual situation. (There is, I believe, a relationship between debt and our ability to experience sexual exchange with others.)
But for now, let's stick to astrology and selling astrology. In a PS to the letter, I explained some of the main ways that people sell astrology and why I feel they are unethical. Let's go over them; I've identified three.
1. Make promises you cannot keep. I call these the bottom feeders, who mostly show up when you use one of those Google ad services to put astrology links on your site. They promise you love, money, better luck, and better health -- if you purchase their report. They thrive on a combination of misery and ignorance. A little higher up the food chain, astrologers sell their predictive or prophetic powers, again making promises they cannot keep -- if we saw a report card of how many astrological predictions came true, it would be somewhere between a C and an F, depending on the day.
2. Scare people into buying. Another common sales tactic, you somehow evoke fear to get a response. This can be subtle, such as "make sure everything is going to be okay," to, "your future may hold something scary, deal with it by purchasing this product." There are practitioners (not exclusively astrologers) who charge $10,000 to remove a curse. Others make negative predictions because things do tend to go wrong in life, and this affirms what a powerful astrologer the person is, since they predicted it.
3. Lure people with promises of power. You will be enlightened, you will become a master, you will find The Truth, and so on. This is generally the high end of the market, appealing to spiritually oriented seekers who want extra influence in their lives or the lives of others. The "know yourself" school of astrology marketing falls into this category, though that one happens to be the most legit. If astrology is good for nothing else, it's a long, painstaking process of getting to know yourself on some new levels. But of course you need to study astrology, not consume it, for that to work; and you can get to know yourself by going to therapy, taking karate class or learning to juggle.
Last, I have identified a sales tactic, which is to mix a sales message and an editorial message in the same moment. You give a certain amount of information, as a tease -- and then without distinguishing the sales message from the "spiritual" one, you say you can have a little more for some cash. This is sly, and it's deceptive -- more than it may seem. When a person opens up to a supposedly cosmic message in a horoscope (particularly if it's relevant), their mind is poised to be receptive in a particularly trusting way; then, in the midst of that message, one slips in another message, "buy." This is a form of subliminal advertising, and it's also similar to the Church saying you can pay [them] for forgiveness of your sins.
My philosophy at Planet Waves is to a) use none of these methods, and b) use positive, creative or informative approaches to reaching our readers, who we need to convert from free services to paid ones in order to stay online. However, as any political analyst can tell you, positive marketing generally does not work. Sometimes it does, but that's because a diversionary tactic is used (humor), an appeal is made ("save" money when you're really going to spend it), or you make a spiritual appeal and basically sell something other than you're actually offering (Shell Oil is healthy for the environment).
Consistently, I have found that our positive messages do not work. So I decided to try a direct one. It worked, on two counts: people subscribed, and people wrote letters in.
Let's try another. Here is why, if you read my horoscopes, you need to pay Planet Waves or support Planet Waves in some tangible way.
It is simple: you come here with different expectations than you do to a news site or a blog. You bring your personal issues, your needs and your unfulfilled desires to a horoscope column when you read it. Every horoscope writer knows this. Indeed, we would not exist otherwise.
Nobody consults a divination oracle without a reason for doing so. And if you ask me, someone who provides that kind of service is taking on karma. When you're going to have so many thousand or million people reading what you write, you can be sure that some of them are going to make decisions based on that information, and that those decisions will have consequences. As the horoscope writer, I am involved in that process of cause and effect. In my view, my karma is cleared if I am sincere, honest and supportive in my astrology.
When I write an analysis of the astrological conditions, I bring 14 years of professional experience to the discussion, and I do more than stake my reputation on what I say: I make statements that you and many other people will count on.
For this to be vaguely ethical, safe or sensible, these analyses need to be done impeccably, and the energy exchange between the reader and the writer needs to be clear.
You want me on-point, happy and doing my job very, very well, well-rested and not overworked. You want to make sure that the relationship between us is based on a conscious exchange -- and so do I, which is why I'm here again asking you to sign up for our excellent astrology and horoscope news service, Planet Waves Weekly. This is the most complete astrological service on the Internet, looking at your personal matters, at the news, at the astrological weather; and prepared by a highly competent, dedicated team of astrologers and editors who assist me.
Baby skunk at the New York State Wildlife Resources Center in Delmar, NY. Photo by Eric Francis.
You can subscribe at this link. Subscriptions are reasonably priced, our services are guaranteed, as in money back if you don't like it. All subscriptions include an awesome separate website called The Spiral Door, which looks at the world on the brink of change. If you need a comp subscription, please write to me directly.
Thanks for your time today.
Your monthly horoscope is located at this link.
Eric Francis Coppolino
Publisher & Horoscope Writer
Planet Waves, Inc.