Publishers: Control IP, Develop Transmedia Brands

Simon PulmanBy Simon Pulman, Transmedia Producer, Transmythology

This article is a follow-on from yesterday’s piece, Novels as the Driving Platform. In this post, I will outline some technology driven changes that are going to revolutionize the publishing business and provide enormous opportunities to Transmedia storytellers.

Publishers as IP Distributors and Curators

Publishers must cease thinking of themselves as merely book – or even eBook – publishers. Instead, they are now intellectual property distributors, promoters and curators. Those that fail to make this adjustment – starting with the dealmaking and contracts that form that foundation of the business – will eventually die. Publishers need to retain as many rights as possible to intellectual property, allowing them to exploit stories as true Transmedia brands.

As much as possible, publishers should seek to control IPs rather than selling rights to other organizations. It would not surprise me to see a publisher set up a movie and digital content studio, mimicking Marvel’s decision in the comic book realm. All properties would be governed by an overall story/mythology bible that would control and guide all adaptations. Additionally, publishers should seek to retain profit participation for every way the IP can be licensed and exploited.

By retaining information about their audience, publishers will also be able to target users directly with properties that they may enjoy. Sample chapters will be sent automatically to every potential consumer. This will have to be done with care (only sending high quality and relevant properties), in order to ensure that the publisher retains the audience’s trust. For that reason, it is likely that publishers will publish far fewer books – but make a lot more money off each. Superfans may even have a role to play in the development process.

To give an example, every publisher is currently looking for the next Twilight or Harry Potter. In the future, they will be able to create one.

Built-In Transmedia Technology

A substantial portion of books purchased will be digitally downloaded. Furthermore, the vast majority of these titles will contain built-in Transmedia experiences. At a base level, books will contain integrated hyperlink-style links to illustrations, character bios, world maps, and internet content. This will be unobtrusive and fluid, and will come to be accepted and appreciated by all demographics.

Certain titles will offer much more – a truly interactive, potentially intrusive story experience. These books – written from the ground up as a Transmedia experience – will allow readers to directly interact with the story, and serve as a jumping-off point for other story platforms. Thus, at certain junctures in the story, the reader will be interrupted by a character instant-messaging them to discuss the story, an opportunity to view a webisode side-story that fills in a gap in the story, or even a suggestion to interact with the story in the physical world somehow. In that respect, the line between a novel and what we now call an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) will blur.

The experience I describe is broadly possible now, on an application built specifically for the purpose of telling that story. 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.

Sharing Content and Leaving Notes

Readers will be able to share book samples and suggest books to friends seamlessly, through a connected infrastructure. In essence, the Amazon reviews site will be incorporated directly into the experience.

More importantly, book clubs and fan sites will go online. Readers will be able to leave notes and comments effortlessly – either for their selected group of friends, or everybody who is reading the book at that time. These notes will range from broad observations, to deconstruction of specific passages. Thus, fans will be able to share and bond over content to a much greater extent than ever before possible. This will be done at the touch of a button, and will shortly become second nature for readers. It goes without saying that Oprah fans will be able to opt to download her recommendations automatically.

Fan communities – often the strongest promoters of a story brand – will migrate to integrate themselves with the property itself. Fans will leave vlogs, comments, fan art, parody songs etc. and link them directly to relevant passages – all available for the reader to toggle on and off as he or she wishes. Geographic barriers will be broken down, and fans will even be able to find kindred spirits in their locality – potentially leading to in-person interaction.

This “virtual book club” feature will also have enormous academic benefits. Study groups will go online, and college classes will be able to share thoughts and criticism directly through their e-reader. Every college student in America will own an iPad, Kindle, or whatever supplants them.

It goes without saying that authors – fiction and nonfiction – will be expected to interact directly with fans through the eBook platform, in a similar way to how Bluray Live allows studios to orchestrate live “fan screenings” with creators in the living room.

Publishers Disappear?

If the publishers are too slow to react to these changes, it is likely that we will see the culmination of the self-publishing phenomenon: publishers will disappear altogether and be replaced by aggregators (iTunes, Amazon, Facebook or Google). Author-creators will then market their books (and related Transmedia content) directly to audiences, with the aggregator taking a small transaction fee (10-15%). This could be a very favorable deal for the skilled author-creator but, as always with the long tail, quality content will be drowned by sub-standard, amateur fare unless an effective filter can be put in place.

This article was originally published at Transmythology and has been reprinted with Mr. Pulman’s permission.

Simon Pulman is a Manhattan based Transmedia Producer focused on the creation of expansive story worlds, development of entertainment brands, and maximization of intellectual property value through sophisticated Transmedia strategies aimed at the mass market. He has a B.A. in English from Duke University and a J.D. from Vanderbilt University, where he specialized in copyright, entertainment and technology law.

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3 thoughts on “Publishers: Control IP, Develop Transmedia Brands

  1. Alternative Publisher

    An interesting article but it starts from the author’s own bias as a transmedia producer. This is the way he would like to see the market develop for the benefit of his business. But I think this article ignores the business view and consumer feedback so far. Yes these developments will happen, but to a much lesser extent than this article alludes. Consumers of books tell us it is hard to beat the technology of a traditional book experience. The printed word in a novel is an interaction between the author and reader and does not usually benefit from interference in this process and the reader’s imagination. In terms of business none of the transmedia projects in traditional books are making money yet. I’m sure a few will do one day, but they will be niche books cleverly produced to suit the needs of that niche.

    Furthermore publishers should not buy as many rights as possible. It is unethical to buy rights from an author if you cannot say for certain that you will be able to exploit those rights fully during the licence, and exploit them better than someone else who may be able to exploit them day one. If you start doing that (a land grab on rights) literary agents will seize up on you, rightly, and may even stop selling to you.

    So although I find this an interesting article to raise discussion, we need to take off the tinted glasses with digital and control the buzz – taking a second look analytically at the social and business dynamics that will shape this future market.

    1. Simon Pulman

      Thank you for reading, and I genuinely appreciate your feedback. Naturally, the article reflects my opinion; I should, however, emphasize that it reflects what I believe will happen – rather than what I necessarily want.

      I agree that the Transmedia portion of most novels will be relatively subtle – the “intrusive” model is one that is certainly suited towards a niche, albeit a niche that will prove very profitable. Regarding what consumers tell you, I’m going to drop the obligatory reference to Henry Ford and faster horses. Twenty years ago, very few people could have predicted (let alone expressed a desire for) facebook, twitter, the iPhone and so on. Of course, it may be that we are headed for evolution, rather than revolution, in the short term. I’m delighted that these issues are at least on your radar.

      Finally, regarding the ethics of rights acquisition, your observation may be correct in the current model. Never would I hope to see any organizing “hoarding” rights, although I should note that many books are optioned today and never see the light of day as a feature film or TV series. I’m really glad that the issue was brought up – my hope is that publishers will acquire rights with a good faith desire to actually exploit them, and that the author will be compensated accordingly.


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