Friday 20 July 2012

Publish! New Players, New Innovations

Nico Macdonald from Media Futures welcomes all
Media Futures are interested in the potential of new technology to change the publishing industry. They believe that new technology, innovations and small start-ups are changing the way people engage with the written word. The Publish! New Players, New Innovations event held at St Brides’ Foundation last night was designed to focus discussion not just on big hitters like Amazon and Google, but also on small start-ups with a show and tell format and panel discussion.

Alyson Fielding, Managing Director, Pyuda, and Dave Addey, Managing Director of Agant, showcased the Timeline World War 2 app which was created in partnership with British Pathé, Windmill Books and Ballista Media, working with storyteller Alyson.

You always hear the phrase ‘this is the future of the book’, but it’s also the future of the documentary. The boundaries are blurring between different fields so collaboration is key. In this instance, Agant were commissioned by Ballista and they licensed content from British Pathé and other organisations. As there were 150 British Pathé videos included, they were involved from very early on, helping to shape the app and show their content in best possible way.

Lessons from the project include using international ‘names’ – trusted experts to give subject credibility and profile – Ballista's Dan Snow for the UK and Robert MacNeil in North America. They adopted a timeline format to group content together, but it has a multi-layered approach so readers can filter by battles or people, for example, dependent on what they are interested in. As far as they can tell, the interactive map of the world was a first, giving a new and engaging way of interacting with the information. The use of the content development tool allowed content developers to preview how it looked and so they could amend and adapt to make it work best for the experience. This was critical to understanding what the finished product would look like to the consumer.

Alexis Kennedy is Chief Narrative Officer of Failbetter Games. They are developing StoryNexus, a platform for playing and building ‘storygames’ such as Fallen London. They are also publisher and retailer of Varytale interactive books. They want to open StoryNexus up so people can create invented worlds. Kennedy believes the oft-quoted phrase “The greatest special effects budget of all time is the human imagination”. StoryNexus is a platform or worlds full of stories that are presented in tiny free floating chunks of narrative that the player selects. 

Why now? The rise of transmedia and storyworlds is the mainstreaming of ‘geek’. There is mobile ubiquity. Everyone is always on internet and there is disruptive opportunity in stories. Video on a mobile device is an unnatural act, but text on a mobile device is not. They are launching an open beta in August, but already have traction and validation from the existing 160k users from all Fallen London accounts. Kennedy was candid about the business model as well: they have achieved revenue of £250k over two years using one and a half dedicated people for writing and developing.

He too believes that collaboration is key. Publishers can use Storyworlds for revenue or marketing. Writers are the kings of text. And for coders who really want to be writers: here’s where you start. But bear in mind that writing interactive fiction is difficult and different from narrative linear writing.

Trevor Klein, Head of Development at digital agency Somethin’ Else, collaborated with Richard Dawkins and publishers Transworld to create The Magic of Reality app. It’s different designing for apps than book. You have to think about technology and design for your content. Don’t make things for yourself or publishers, but those who will buy them: the most important approach is to design for your users. When making a digital book, the book bit is the most important element. It is really important to work and collaborate with the author. For the science, every chapter had an interactive experiment everyone could do for themselves (e.g. grow your own frogs).

Klein provided insight into where in the market to pitch your app to make money. Android apps don’t make any money while 80% of iOS apps don’t make any money. For iOS, the top 1% make 36% of revenue; the next 19% make 61%; and the bottom 80% make 3%. And Klein’s advice? Don’t aim for Angry Birds territory - it won’t work. They focus on the 19% band. To be successful at this he suggests publishers: 1) design an awesome product (but be prepared to invest in it); 2) have (or get) a flagship brand/author; and 3) price it and market it property. In his view, that’s all you need to do to launch a successful app. 

One final insight was to understand the sales spike. The majority of app sales are on launch, with a long tail of sales. The illustration he showed demonstrated that when price promotions were used, they were effective. But only on the day they ran, with no long term benefits to sales.

Antonio Gould is a digital producer who worked with the Usborne Foundation on the development of the Teach Your Monster to Read learning game. It would have been impossible to develop the game without the use of Agile development. It was central to building and testing to change to make it work. They only knew of problems by testing in schools at alpha and beta stages. They also went through 150 illustrators to find the right person and using a team of freelancers enabled them to do this. They used a community based media model - different from centralised marketing messages. Gould believes that traditional marketing skills won’t cut it. Development and marketing were in the same team. The project wouldn't have worked otherwise.

The panel contemplate innovation and new players
We then turned to the panel to hear their thoughts on how new players can innovate and disrupt creating opportunities for publishers. Eric Huang is Publishing Director for Media and Entertainment at Penguin. They increasingly look at web products, toys, film and other media. He described the team as producing content for partners. This sounded more like agency talk rather than publisher talk. While they are known for Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters, they now launch picture book brands digitally and are also working with a new breed of author. 

Two such authors are Chris Mould and Matt Howarth whose book Edmund and Cecilie is digital first. The concept is of a little girl with a magical friend who is a dragon. The reader explores a magic forest that tells the story of ancient dragon in an interactive way. While it is a reading experience, it won’t feel like a book at all. With another project 'Ollie’s Edible Adventures' - the story of a boy who became what he ate - the metaphor of typography is replaced by the metaphor of props for a stage. 

Huang sees his division as storytellers who tell stories across multiple formats, not just in the one we love the most: books. He believes it is a great time if you are working in media (not publishing) to break down doors. The good news is that Penguin will talk to anyone. They are becoming more like TV/film producers and developers, but face the challenge of not having all these skills. That is where partnerships and collaboration comes in.

Kate Pullinger, a writer whose novel The Mistress of Nothing won the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, and whose digital fiction projects include Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths: A Networked Novel says that one of the things that frustrates her about e-books is that they are interred and in silos. 

Peter Usborne, Founder and Managing Director of Usborne Publishing whose Usborne Foundation supported the development of the Teach Your Monster to Read learning game says his company doesn’t feel threatened by digital. But if he was a bookseller, he’d be jumping off a cliff. His view on apps is marketing first. They are quite easy to develop, but it is very easy for them to get lost. He does not see any advantage in being first, but is very happy to see lots of other people be first – and make lots of mistakes they can learn from.

Chris Book is Chief Executive of Bardowl, a digital streaming service for audio books. He feels it is genuinely the most exciting time to be working in publishing driven by all the technical possibilities and new thinking from authors and publishers. New players aren’t a threat: the big tech companies that own most of distribution and retail of products are. And publishers working with small start-ups can mitigate this as their business models tend to be adaptable. With Bardowl they charge £9.95 per month subscription. The payment companies take their cut and then there is a 50/50 share with the publisher and Bardowl. This is calculated by minutes of the book listened to in a month which is what differentiates from existing provider of audio books and links through to actual usage. With new models such as this, it’s crucial that publishers share some of the risk with new players to give consumers what they want.

While the focus of the evening was weighted towards children's and reference publishing, the principles of innovation, partnerships, skills and collaboration apply just as much to the scholarly sector as to trade. We're keen to hear about projects across ALPSP's membership that are exploring these areas.

1 comment:

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