Great piece on Unbound, all of which I agree with, by Adrian Hon:
Where Kickstarter is transparent, Unbound is bafflingly opaque – although this coyness may stem from publishers’ reluctance to talk about hard numbers even when they’re raising all their money from the public. Transparency also applies to creators; on Kickstarter, they write their own project descriptions and film their own videos, allowing their personality, experience, and trustworthiness (or lack thereof) to shine through, and from the earnest amateurishness of some efforts actually helps convey how much they could use the money.
Unbound writes project descriptions for their authors. They’re slick, but they’re also soulless (which is odd, since if anyone ought to be able to write well, it’s authors) and distancing. This leads to another issue – do successful authors like Terry Jones even need the money? After all, they’re asking for a lot – £10,000 at a minimum, and much, much higher in most cases – so you want to be sure it’s being used wisely.
Rushing to finish things, but this is worth a read. If I was betting I’d wager on Byliner and Red Lemonade, in both cases because I think they use the web to best effect AND show signs of having thought through the implications of digital distribution on publishing and the industry around it. I could be wrong, but that’s my two cents as it were:
Depending on whom you ask, these are either the best or the worst of times for the written word. As with every other branch of traditional media, the Internet has pushed the publishing industry to a critical inflection point, something we’ve previously discussed. Disrupting the mainstream marketplaces for journalism, literature, and the fundamental conventions of reading and writing themselves, here are seven startups that promise to reshape the way we create and consume ideas.
So how did Sears falter? (I’ll leave Montgomery Ward aside as by the mid-1990s they had a number of fatal problems with their management unrelated to the emergence of the Web).
It’s tempting to just say Sears didn’t understand the Internet, but that is not the case. Sears, after all, developed Prodigy with IBM in the 1980s. They did, in fact, know more about the Internet and the emerging Web than just about any other retailer. What they did not understand was the business they were in. They continued to cling to the wrong core competency (retail stores) while their online business remained secondary.
Sears thought it was in the catalog business and, more recently, in the retail store business. It was not. It was, and remains, in the retail sales and distribution business. The mechanisms of sales and distribution may change over time, and keeping ahead of those trends is the key to remaining successful.
A brand that is in between these two is “Dummies.” It definitely creates a meaningful shortcut for a consumer; they recognize it and it tells them “this book explains the basics on the subject in a way that requires you to bring almost no knowledge to it for it to be useful.” But because Dummies covers many subjects under the sun, it would be difficult to make use of it for audience-gathering or direct marketing the way Harlequin is employed.
You wouldn’t “subscribe” to new offerings, sight unseen, from either Penguin or Dummies. That means that, in at least one very important way, those brands aren’t as useful as Harlequin. Why? They’re too broad. General Motors wouldn’t ever have sold nearly as many cars if they called all the cars “GMs” to create a megabrand and had lost the distinction between Chevrolet and Cadillac. Trying to create “one big brand” if it captures unrelated content or unrelated audiences could be “one big mistake.”
My own theory is that publishers have to completely re-think their imprints in light of the need to move from b2b to b2c. Imprints at big houses are almost always silos with no discernible b2c meaning. In fact, the names of smaller houses, because smaller houses tend to focus on subject areas, can more readily have meaning to consumers.