Publishing Evolution in the Transmedia Age

by April Arrglington on March 3rd, 2011

OK so, for my first post I decided to tackle publishing mainly because it seems to be at the top of the intellectual property (IP) food chain. My background is in entertainment, film more specifically, so I can say for a fact that the state of affairs in Hollywood, as it stands right now, is that about 90% of movies comes from novels, comic books, plays or games. This means that the publishing industry is essentially what is sustaining Hollywood. The spec (original script) market has dwindle down almost exclusively to the microbudget independent realm since its rise in the 1990’s. People wonder, will the spec script ever come back from oblivion? I for one think so, just not as it used to be, but in a much evolved form. But we’ll get to that later.

The biggest irony about this statistic is that, at the same time, the publishing industry is at odds with this notion that the Internet is not only killing the music and film star, but is out to bring a horrid death to the author star as well. Pessimists are spreading doom and gloom with ‘Print is Dead’ stickers all over the place because they thrive in feeding from panic. With Borders filing for bankruptcy some say these naysayers are right. But they are wrong.

Borders boat sank from a domino effect that started with a very bad executive decision back in the early to mid 2000s to not go digital. They resisted to put up an online store for years just as Amazon was thriving, not only at selling books online, but adding to that electronics, apparel, music and movies. By the time Borders got with the program it was too late, they were already bleeding losses profusely. Their demise had nothing to do with publishing, and everything to do with resisting change.

Two weeks ago was The Tools of Change Conference in NYC. I didn’t go, but heard that the highlight of the entire conference was Margaret Atwood’s talk on the state of the publishing industry.
As you can tell from her slideshow, the new consensus is that publishing is not dying. What is dying is the old business models that are not relevant to the new emerging technologies at the forefront of the consumer market.

So what are the new business models that actually translate to profitability, you might ask? Well, in the words of Atwood herself:

“... we are in the midst of a sea change in transmission tools, the likes of which we have not seen since the Gutenberg print revolution. As with that historical moment, there was a lot of turmoil, and nobody could foresee all the consequences.”

There are many new business models popping up everyday that are constantly changing and adapting to better serve specific properties. Here are some examples of this fragmented phenomena:
  • Novelr highlights how Amanda Hocking has taken the stigma out of self-publishing. She is the living proof, Techdirt reports, that authors can actually make a living by releasing cheap ebooks. Hocking is essentially one of the most successful web fiction authors that has never been traditionally published. Shunned by the conventional publishing model, she was able to skip the way how the publishing pie gets cut (printer, publisher, seller, agent + author) by bypassing print and going straight to digital. Her costs only include the ebook and cover art designer costs, which enables her to pocket most of the profits. Her case study is relevant to us cause she was able to cut a niche for herself in the YA market by using trailers to promote her book series, and engaging directly with her fans with social media. These sort of practices, as Simon Pulman illustrates, are becoming more and more common. To top it all, one of her properties has jump the web fiction driving platform and has been optioned for a film.
  • Atwood, in her slideshow, also explored Mark Jeffrey’s case study of the Max Quick Series. Jeffrey released his property ‘Max Quick: The Pocket and The Pendant’ as a free podcast first, sold an app, self-published on Lulu and then, and only then, got a deal with Harper Collins. His site for Max Quick is essentially a social hub for fans of the property.
  • Last in my list, but certainly not least, is the Patick Carman’s Trackers Series, which encompasses a series of short films, puzzles, texts and video games that drive and complement the novel series. Carman was also able to secure a film option with Intrepid pictures for a couple of his properties.
What all these case studies have in common is the innate ability of these authors to use Transmedia strategies to publish their properties, in some cases not even realizing that this is what they were doing. These authors were forced to think outside the box, and because of all the approachable technologies at their disposal they were able to succeed.
Technology, however, is still changing. Which means that new strategies are bound to come into the fold. Examples of built-in Transmedia technologies are already surfacing. The creators of Alice for the Ipad are working with Random House so that in the near future all books will look like a fictional version of what Wired Digital is doing for the Ipad.
Following that trend most publishing houses are now following in those footsteps. Other industries are doing the same.

This is all very cool and exciting, however different apps for different properties bring up the problem of a saturation of proprietary technology. Thankfully, Simon Pulman over at Transmythology explains on his post ‘The Future of Publishing’ how this problem will be resolved in the future:

“Ten years from now, such proprietary technology will be unnecessary – all eReaders will have interactive and video sharing capabilities built in. Additional elements will provide new revenue possibilities, either in the form of an elevated purchase price (subscription model) or microtransactions that enable readers to access more content on a pay-as-you-go basis. Readers will maintain an account, either with an aggregator such as iTunes/Amazon or directly with the publisher.”

Did you get this? Publishers will cease to be the ones nagging authors to promote their properties across social media, and become IP curators ready to use Transmedia to turn properties into rich story worlds. They will become like mini studios catering directly to fans! Believe it or not this mini studios notion is already happening in the way of publishing collectives, like Mischief & Maygehem. This particular group hasn’t jump into Transmedia yet, but at least their heart is set in the right place.

This idea of publishers becoming IP curators will also solve the other problem that self-publishing poses, which Atwood also mentioned in her talk, of how most authors are bad at self-promotion and not all of them know how to diversify by themselves. I think that it’s OK if some authors are more dependant in publishers than others. At the end of the day, cutting the publishing pie in two (author + publisher) is way better than cutting it in five (printer, publisher, seller, agent + author).

The most important thing to understand from all of this is that you can’t expect to build an audience just by signing up to facebook or twitter. These are just marketing tools. At it’s core, Transmedia exists to serve the story. In order to succeed at implementing Transmedia you need to use technology to drive the story forward, and not viceversa. Cause the story, and the way you put it out there, is ultimately what your fans are going to crave and want to pay for.

That been said, I’m pretty confident when I say that publishing is not dead, mainly because the human interest in stories is not dead. If 72-year-old Margaret Atwood can somehow get that the future stands in Transmedia, then so should you.

Posted in Publishing    Tagged with publishing, technology, case studies, Amanda Hocking, Mark Jeffrey, Patrick Carman, Random House, Wired, Simon Pulman, .Margaret Atwood


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