The iPad, Transmedia, and the Future of Publishers

49/365 (Android pesadilla) by Jesus Belzunce

Over 25 years, Apple has earned the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to their tribe. They can get the word out about a new product without a lot of money because one by one, they’ve signed people up. They didn’t sell 300,000 iPads in one day, they sold them over a few decades.

“Secrets of the biggest selling launch ever”, Seth Godin

The iPad reviews are in, and whether positive, negative or on the fence loaded with caveats, the most common underlying thread is that Apple has created a device that could eventually change the way we acquire, consume and interact with digital content.

This potential change is important to publishers of all kinds, but particularly to those of books as the eBook experience on the iPad is arguably one of its weakest features.

While iBooks, Kindle and Kobo (the three eBook apps I tested) are all solid readers with varying appeal, replicating the reading experience of a print book via static EPUB files (on a device that weigts twice as much an average book!) is like driving a Porsche to the corner store for a six-pack of Old Milwaukee. While test-driving eBooks on the iPad, I limited myself to free books, samples, and in the case of Kindle, ebooks my wife and I have already purchased for her Gen 1 device (which she loves, BTW, despite the limited inventory of books she actually wants to read), and I wasn’t terribly impressed by any of them.

I also downloaded a variety of other apps, all free, and NPR, Epicurious and Disney’s Toy Story each demonstrated the real potential for delivering a truly engaging, innovative reading experience that leverages the iPad’s strengths and comes close to aligning with Apple’s marketing of it as a “magical and revolutionary” device. The Marvel Comics app (powered by ComiXology, whose multi-publisher inventory is impressive) is also a notable step towards realizing Jim Fallone’s compelling vision for digital comics, and if delivers on the promise suggested by its private beta, the iPad could truly be a game-changer for comics.

As Eric Freese noted in his iPad review, there is the very real possibility that the higher eBook prices some publishers have fought for, using Apple’s entry into the market as leverage, could backfire on them, and soon:

Next to its screen size and capacity, herein is perhaps the biggest benefit of the iPad as an eReading device ? its ability to purchase and download eBooks from any retailer (assuming Barnes and Noble releases their app soon).

This might actually drive prices down since the iPad enables direct head-to-head competition between eBook retailers.

And therein lies the problem for regular eBooks, and by extension, their traditional publishers.

Why pay $9.99+ for a single eBook, when there are far more compelling apps available for much less money, all based on familiar brands, that take full advantage of the $500+ investment in the device? At $9.99, eBooks are competing with everything from Netflix, which allows you to stream unlimited movies for $8.99/month, to well-known games like Scrabble, Need for Speed, Command and Conquer, and Civilization Revolution, all of which are $9.99 – $14.99.

An interesting, and seemingly unrelated announcement came out this week via Deadline Hollywood that should give everyone in the publishing food chain something to think about:

I’ve learned that a significant All-Boards meeting for the Producers Guild of America took place tonight. Sources tell me that the members voted on a series of amendments that qualify individuals as professional producers. More importantly, for the first time in the guild’s history, they voted on and ratified a new credit — that of the Transmedia Producer — which had been shepherded by such Hollywood names as Mark Gordon, Gael Anne Hurd, Jeff Gomez, Alison Savage, and Chris Pfaff.

This Guild-wide adoption is unprecedented as it will allow executives who expand storylines of franchises onto multiple platforms to receive official credit on these projects as “Transmedia Producers”. These producers develop cross platform storylines on Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, and Mobile — and now, they’ll be credited with an official title. I’m told this is a historic move for the PGA because the guild rarely backs new credits. “These amendments demonstrate how the guild supports producers making and changing the game,” a source told me tonight.

The definition of transmedia is up for debate, but the one I prefer focuses on the storyworld first, distribution channels second, with the latter determined via a collaborative process that puts the author’s creative vision at the center. Most so-called transmedia projects are really just cross-media marketing initiatives and/or brand extensions, driven by licensing deals and a parceling out of rights in a manner that often includes loss of creative control by the author. Star Wars is the go-to example of a transmedia property, and while it has definitely evolved into a legitimate one, it didn’t start out that way.

The recognition of “Transmedia Producer” by the PGA is important as it potentially shifts power away from literary agents and publishers whose sole focus is on the book, print or electronic, instead of the underlying story, its creator and the varied platforms now available to storytellers, whether fictional or truth.

If the iPad fulfills its promise of changing the way we interact with digital content, the question of territorial rights for eBooks and the temptation to split eBook rights from print deals could become even thornier as the book becomes just one of a variety of platforms available to authors in a transmedia world, and “Transmedia Producers” become the preferred gatekeepers.

While there are some in the publishing world who appear to have seen this shift coming — including Open Road Integrated Media, Movable Type Literary Group, and Random House — developing new business models to take advantage of cross-media opportunities, can any of them compete with a truly collaborative approach that’s a far more natural fit for film producers?

Where does the book, and the publishing supply chain devoted to it, fit in a transmedia world?

[NOTE: This post was simultaneously published at Digital Book World.]

4 thoughts on “The iPad, Transmedia, and the Future of Publishers

  1. Great article, Guy.
    It's going to be quite interesting to see how this all plays out over the next year or so. My concern is that everyone is talking about how this affects publishers, but rarely is the author mentioned in these conversations. Will they get larger or smaller cut of these deals that are being made?

  2. Ok. Good to know. I'll definitely check out that article.
    I'm a new subscriber and it looks like there is a lot of good content here.

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