The Ideal 21st Century Publisher: A Remix

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Tor.com + Runes of Gallidon + Book View Cafe + Cursor = Awesome!

The hope of pioneering the music industry’s most profound transformation, that inspired entrepreneurs over 10 years ago, has finally been snuffed out by the very people who would have profited the most—the music industry. The table is now set. There will be no new players of significance to enter the business.

-Wayne Rosso, The Dream Is Over: Music Labels Have Killed Their Digital Future

I don’t like comparisons between the music and publishing industries because they don’t really sync, especially not book publishing, but the underlying gist of Rosso’s comment can certainly be applied to publishers who view the “digital transition” from a format-centric perspective and not a cultural one.

As I said back in January (which sometimes feels like a decade ago), it’s not about ebooks, it’s about experimentation. Experimentation with contracts, rights, formats and distribution channels; experimentation that will certainly include e-books, and rightfully so, but they won’t be the central focus — for publishers nor readers. Since then, we’ve seen several examples of experimentation from publishers of all sizes, and even many authors and agents, too.

Having spent the past year deep in the weeds of the book publishing industry, having spent the past decade-plus watching the magazine publishing industry fumble the digital ball, and having been inspired by Don Linn’s simple but oh, so true statement: “Your old job, whatever it was, doesn’t exist anymore (even if the title does).” — I decided to put my pundit hat on and come up with my own vision of the ideal publisher for the 21st Century.

Of course, one of the primary pitfalls for this kind of spin on fantasy football is that too often the ideas aren’t really actionable, usually requiring a blank slate and completely divorced from the real-world market that actually exists. To address that, I decided to approach it like I was putting together a business plan, and that whatever I came up with needed to be grounded in reality and connected to real-life examples.

Fortunately, in this era of experimentation, I was able to find an example of every piece of the puzzle I wanted to build, and my fantasy publisher would follow this simple equation:

Tor.com + Runes of Gallidon + Book View Café + Cursor = Awesome!

This remix of publishing-centric innovators that have caught my attention offers a potent combination of all the things I believe are critical to embodying my idea of publishing as a community service.

  • Tor.com’s publisher-agnostic approach to serving the sci-fi/fantasy community is a great blend of content strategy and ecommerce.
  • Runes of Gallidon represents a great proof of concept for empowering and monetizing fan participation.
  • Book View Café illustrates the strength-in-numbers potential of a fully engaged authors’ collective.
  • Cursor rethinks the business model, enabling a publisher to focus on nurturing the underlying intellectual property.

This fantasy publisher of mine would be niche-focused, of course, and would view books, print and digital, as but one medium for the stories it acquires, and likely only publish 6-12 physical books/year — a mix of novels, anthologies and comics, featuring work by its authors and their fans. A tightly integrated and sustainable list would be emphasized over volume, and mutually beneficial partnerships would be prioritized over traditional vendors and intermediaries.

Beyond books, every story would go through an organic transmedia development process BEFORE acquisition to identify other appropriate media, either for production or format licensing, including film/tv, video/computer games, interactive apps, T/CCGs, online education, merchandising, etc. Some acquisitions would be made without the expectation of a physical book being a factor.

While there’s no existing example of this exact approach that I’m aware of — and please do correct me if I’m wrong — there are many publishers already doing some combination of at least two of these things, and pulling them all together would most likely be more of a philosophical hurdle than a business one.

Am I missing anything here?

And more importantly, if you’re a venture capitalist, give me call!

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

As in guillotine. Old/new media pragmatist. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, books, games, running.

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10 thoughts on “The Ideal 21st Century Publisher: A Remix

  1. Sue Lange

    I like this idea, Guy: “Beyond books, every story would go through an organic transmedia development process BEFORE acquisition to identify other appropriate media, either for production or format licensing, including film/tv, video/computer games, interactive apps, T/CCGs, online education, merchandising, etc. Some acquisitions would be made without the expectation of a physical book being a factor.”

    Would love to hear from organizations that are taking this seriously. BVC is all over the place on what we do and what our model is. I like to think we’re flexible enough to take on such things. Time and our authors’ imaginations will tell.

    Reply
    1. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Post author

      I think you’re starting to see more mainstream publishers grasp the concept of transmedia, if not applying the clunky term itself, and it’s already a way of life for many comics and rpg publishers. This week’s announcement of Macmillan Films and their intent to develop properties in-house was an intriguing step in that direction.

      From what I’ve seen, I think BVC could evolve into the kind of publisher I’m envisioning here. I’d certainly love to see that happen!

      Reply
  2. Scott Walker

    Flattered to be part of your fantasy publisher, and thank you for continuing to push at the limits of our presumptions regarding how entertainment/content can or should be done.

    New models for participatory entertainment can help address several of the challenges facing content industries, and I’m thrilled to see thought leaders like you espousing the benefits of experimenting with new frameworks.

    Reply
  3. Simon Pulman

    Great article, and a fairly accurate prediction of where things are headed. I hope you’re being taken seriously.

    One thing: I was about to jump in and say “don’t forget merchandising!” And then, I saw you didn’t. I think it’s an important piece of the puzzle, a clear way of sharing risk between properties and enabling publishers to quickly react to audience response. I’m guessing that a lot of previous deals were cut quickly with a flat fee or fixed percentage and then forgotten about by the publisher. That’s like burning dollar bills.

    Reply
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  9. Martin

    I saw you didn’t. I think it’s an important piece of the puzzle, a clear way of sharing risk between properties and enabling publishers to quickly react to audience response..!!

    Reply

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