The New Publishers: Telecommunications & Technology Companies

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Dominique Delport is head of  Vivendi Content which just announced the creation of a content studio that will create scripted, made-for-mobile series.

Digital platforms and devices have become the place where stories that are usually ignored by mainstream distributors find welcome viewers. Among others past, present and (being) adapted for television, there’s viral hit An African City, Snapchat series Literally Can’t Even, and Roots drummer Questlove’s original animated series STORYVILLE. But, increasingly, telcos and tech companies are taking more of an ownership stake in the content viewers flock to their sites or services to watch.

 

NetFlix’s stable of streaming programs and Amazon.com’s Emmy-, SAG-, and Golden Globe-winning series Transparent are probably the best tech companies creating original shows that have found cult audiences, but new players are entering the fray. Back in February, Apple announced it was working on an original TV show with legendary hip-hop producer and Beats Music Co-founder Dr. Dre tentatively entitled Vital Signs–the first step in creating a bundle of shows for AppleTV.  Earlier this month, traditional mass media powerhouse Vivendi announced plans to put €25 million behind a new venture called Studio Plus which aims to create original series for mobile phones and tablets.

At MipTV, an annual event that brings global media and content players together in Cannes, France, the head of Vivendi Content Dominique Delport said of the move, “We’re aiming to tap into the booming consumption of short formats by the mobile generation and address the scarcity of quality mobile-ready scripted content for the millennials.” Delport told Variety Studio Plus will launch in France with 25 scripted, short-format, 10-episode series.

Also announced this month, telecommunications giant Verizon has teamed up with media conglomerate Hearst Corp. to purchase Complex Media.  According to Ad Age, “Some Complex Media content will be distributed across Verizon’s platforms, such as the telco’s Go90 video service.”

Complex chief executive Rich Antoniello said, “When you get an opportunity to create unfair and competitive advantage disproportionately in the marketplace, you take it.”

Abiola Oke, CEO of okayafrica, the largest digital platform for new African content, says he’s been in several meetings with telcos focused on funding or creating new content for their subscribers. He noted they are not just looking for streaming content, but literature too.

What does this mean for us writers tapping at our keys, scrawling ideas in journals and on napkins, or simply staring at a blank screen?

There’s something to be optimistic about as we toil in the refiner’s furnace of creation: Even as traditional publishing opportunities constrict and mutate in the digital age, new digital platforms may be the way to get our work to our audience. Successful traditional authors are already exploring and experimenting with digital distribution formats.

At the end of 2015, a New York Times story announced multi-million copy selling author Wally Lamb’s plans to release his sixth novel I’ll Take You There as an app, via e-book publishing company Metabook. Fellow bestseller Margaret Atwood has been ahead of the digital wave for years. As I noted in a 2012 post:

In 2012 specifically, she launched an app called Fanado which allows authors and fans to connect and sign books virtually. She has been actively promoting online writing community Wattpad.com. Now, USA Today reports, Atwood is planning to write her next book, Positron, as a serial that will be released on Byliner.com. (Byliner was just in the news for partnering with the New York Times to publish original long form articles by Times writers.) Atwood told NPR the internet has ironically made it possible to revive the serial fiction culture of the past.

Aspiring and emerging writers are taking advantage of the free distribution digital media provides too. In 2015, Aziah King practically broke the internet with her tweeted tale about a stripper’s wild weekend in Florida, and Penguin Random House joined the Association of American Publishers to host the Twitter Fiction Festival. Earlier this month, literary agent Beth Phelan hosted a pitch session for writers to share ideas with agents and editors on Twitter called #DVPit.

Whether it’s participating in social media pitch sessions, sharing new work on platforms like Wattpad, leveraging social media to share stories with our following, there are obviously lots of different ways to get the word out, but how do we make money?

This is where writers and agents need to get creative. Perhaps it’s setting up pitch meetings with the appropriate Content/Programming lead at a telco, or getting a group of writers together to create a collective and pitching a social or digital platform on a content channel/series that’s exclusive and lives behind a pay wall. Similar to JayZ’s Tidal, which creatives from every genre should follow closely (mistakes and successes) to learn how an artist-owned platform can eventually work.

Because we, as a culture, are still understanding the ocean of possibilities digital platforms can power–even as tech and telecommunications companies innovate at breakneck speed–the only thing really standing in our way is imagination and knowledge. If writing is something we want to do professionally and sustainably, we need to educate ourselves about the changing market and how and where we might fit in; and we must be willing to think creatively and pursue fresh options when traditional doors remain closed or only open a crack.

Margaret Atwood is Working on a Book that Won't Be Released till 2114

Margaret Atwood - peoplewhowrite

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is the first author to sign on for the The Future Library project. Created by artist Kate Paterson, The Guardian writes, “Each year, the Future Library trust, made up of literary experts–and Paterson, while she’s alive–will name another ‘outstanding’ writer who will be contributing to the artwork.”

The trust is banking on readers of the next century consuming these stories in print. 1,000 trees were planted in Nordmarka, Norway to be used for the paper on which each book will be printed. “A printing press will be placed in the library to make sure those in charge in 2114 have the capability of printing books on paper,” the article explains.

As part of the contract, invited writers cannot reveal what they will be writing for their 2114 readers. Atwood said of the project, “I think it goes right back to that phase of our childhood when we used to bury little things in the backyard, hoping that someone would dig them up, long in the future, and say, ‘How interesting, this rusty old piece of tin, this little sack of marbles is. I wonder who put it there?'”

On Failure: Margaret Atwood, Anne Enright, Will Self & More

Will Self - peoplewhowrite

Will Self

The Guardian recently asked seven prize-winning writers — Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Anne Enright, Howard Jacobson, Will Self, and Lionel Shriver — to reflect on what it means to fail and succeed. My favorite is Will Self’s answer: “…the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short.”

Read the full piece here.

If You’re Not Already On It, Check Out Online Writing Community Wattpad.com

In the last few years, a plethora of online author platforms and communities have cropped up trying to harness the digital world’s capabilities for authors. In the last few months, specifically, the press releases have been flying.

Children’s book publisher Macmillan recently announced a new crowdsource imprint called Swoon Reads which will allow authors to submit their work directly to the publisher, rate other authors’ work, weigh in on cover design, and the like. Writer Erik Bowman recently launched Authr.com, a fundraising platform along the lines of crowdsource funding site Kickstarter.com. Then, last week, Canadian start-up Wattpad.com was in the news as Random House announced they would publish 17-year-old Beth Reeks’ novel after her story garnered 19 million reads on Wattpad.

Like many online communities for aspiring writers, Wattpad allows authors to submit their work to a digital jury of peers, readers, and apparently, publishers for the ever precious feedback. Launched in 2006 by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen, Wattpad has been criticized for facilitating book piracy, while others like veteran author Margaret Atwood are lending their clout to the service.

It’s not clear whether Atwood is an official spokesperson for Wattpad, an organic advocate, or both, so take her endorsement as you will. What’s most intriguing is that, as these sites continue to crop up, they’ll have to offer authors a better, stronger experience to survive. As you contemplate which of these services to invest your time in — and share your writing on — it’s encouraging that Wattpad in particular is still standing six years after its founding.

New Literature Prize Offers 40,000 Pounds to Winning Writer

Agent Andrew Kidd - peoplewhowrite

Agent Andrew Kidd

UPDATE: The Folio Society announced that it would sponsor the new “Literature Prize”, which will now be called The Folio Prize, The Bookseller reports. The Society has also formed a Folio Academy — a literary who’s who of 110 authors and critics including Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, and Junot Díaz — that will judge the awards. All 110 judges won’t be judging at the same time. The judging and selection process will work as follows:

The inaugural award will be presented in March 2014 for books published in the UK between 1st January and 31st December 2013, written originally in English from authors anywhere around the globe, and published in any form or from any genre.

The Academy will choose 60 titles, and then pick an additional 20 books from publisher nominations. The five judges of the prize will be Academy members, and will be drawn by lots in July. The panel must include three members from the UK, and two from outside the UK, and there must be no more than three members of the same gender. Five names will be drawn randomly from the two groups alternately, starting with those from the UK.

The selected judges then choose a shortlist of eight books, which will be announced in February 2014.

UPDATE: Suzy Lucas has been named the prize administrator. The Bookseller reports that Lucas is “formerly literature consultant to the BFI’s Film Fund and before that a scout at Anne-Louise Fisher Associates.”

Simply called “The Literature Prize”, the £40,000 pot is not restricted to authors from a certain country or a particular genre as with other such prizes like the Man Booker and Caine Prizes. According to The Bookseller, “The sole criterion will be excellence,” organizers of the UK prize said. Founded by Aitken Alexander and agent Andrew Kidd, the advisory committee to the prize features industry heavyweights including Zadie Smith’s agent Georgia Garrett and legendary publisher William Heinemann. The first prize will be awarded in March 2014 to a book published between January and December 2013.