collaborate

I have to admit I approached publishing as a field, a discipline, a calling, with a kind of naïve idealism. To be a facilitator! A curator! A champion of art, literature, and unheard voices! This seemed to be all there was to it. Find good work, be the platform from which to launch the work. And then I read the following line in Richard Nash’s article “What is Business of Literature?”:

“Books not only are part and parcel of consumer capitalism, they virtually began it. They are part of the fuel that drives it.”

One pauses.

One reads on.

“The growth of the chain model in books offered the twentieth-century public the opportunity to decry the groceryfication of the bookstore, utterly belying the reality…that the bookstore is in fact the model for the supermarket.”

Reading this made me uncomfortable, a little bit nauseated, and strangely intrigued, but at first I couldn’t tell you why. Isn’t the widened distribution of literature–or science, knitting, or anything that might be contained between two boards and a spine–a good thing? That a public might be able to obtain and then learn from a book virtually any topic they desired? Or, as Nash mentions, be empowered and inspired to write those books they themselves can’t find? I realise capitalism is the underpinning of these apparent benefits–but where has capitalism gotten us? Contemporary philosopher Bernard Stiegler posits a “decadence of industrial democracy” has led to societal disenchantment and a “capitalism without motivation” (131). The rapid and barrier-free circulation of commodities “comes to replace the circulation of the works of spirit”; that is, of individual and social knowledge (132). Stiegler argues this loss of spirit has led to irrationality, the loss of hope, and a disintegration of collective individuation–actual community connection (133).  

This disillusionment is not something only philosophers have noticed. Dissatisfaction with the present political and market power structure, the largest income gap in modern memory, and the feeling of powerlessness in the face of faceless corporations has manifested in the social movements and increasing popularity of socialist and populist political platforms in recent memory. I would also argue that the recent trend freelancing and participation in the gig economy for Millenials has been a reaction and possibly failed experiment response to mainstream corporate ethos and working conditions.

So what does this have to do with publishing? In the realest sense, the corporate control of content, “governed by profitability rather than politics”  is a dangerous but all too common thing in the case of the “Big 5” publishing conglomerates (Squires 22).  If publishing was truly one of the forebears of modern capitalism, as Nash suggests, and if capitalism is a factor that has thrown the global mood into this malaise of spirit–not to mention the suppression of knowledge–doesn’t publishing as a field have the unique opportunity to serve culture and counteract this current iteration of capitalism at the same time? Allow me for a moment again to be naïvely idealistic (and let’s face it, a little bit socialist) to suggest that a co-operatively owned, socially-inspired mode of framing, filtering, and amplifying content might be an answer to our capitalist problems and the “radical agent of change” that Nash calls for (Bhaskar 6).

 

Let’s first imagine what an ideal co-operative publishing house might look like. A co-operative business can be most easily summed up as one which is owned and operated either by its own workers or by its members (“Why?”). When the editors, marketers, designers, and producers of a co-op have equal stake, collaborative control and a say in what is produced, their needs as producers and the needs of their mandate come first; stake can also be held by members of the community.  A co-op’s prime interest would not be maximal profit for external shareholders and so in its nature avoids the exploitation of labour, material, or content, as might be the case with a typical private or public investor-owned corporation. To put it another way, work and production do not necessarily become a means to maximum profit, but a means to themselves, and inherently, quality output. In this model there could also be the elimination of the need for freelance labour, or rather, someone working on limited projects could still ostensibly be involved in ownership or collaboration of the business; the amount of output made for the company would directly reflect a worker’s input to operations.

It sounds great, in a vacuum. One of the biggest challenges in starting a socially-owned publishing operation in the present day is that the backdrop against which this company is set is still a capitalist one. The “Big 5” publishing firms in North America, as they’ve been coined, aren’t going communal anytime soon. On the flipside, would you be surprised that in research for this topic, existing models of publishers functioning today under a self-proclaimed “communal” or “co-operative” business model are not exactly numerous?

 

One striking example is BC’s own New Society Publishers. What started as a Canadian branch of an American anti-war publisher, Judith and Chris Plant directed New Society from Gabriola Island for over 20 years. Running widely off their own steam to become internationally-recognized for their list of progressive and environmentally-focused non-fiction titles, the Plants sold the company to become an imprint of Vancouver’s Douglas & McIntyre in 2008 (Plant). When Douglas & McIntyre itself went under in 2012, the Plants and employees of New Society scrambled to keep the business alive. Enter stage left Carol Newell, philanthropist, who had the means and passion to help keep New Society afloat, and by the same stroke, trigger the next business model: an employee trust, a three-way split of the company between Newell, the Plants, and the employees (“People”). Written into this new form was also space for a representative of the employee’s trust to sit on the board of directors, ensuring the employee’s rights and a hand in the direction of New Society. It seems that the cooperative model has worked well for New Society, especially as it allows the publisher to adhere to company mandate of best environmental and social practices, facts which are proudly broadcast as part of the New Society brand (“About Us”).  

Other examples can be found in niches of clearly progressive, leftist and anarchist content; there is also a growing movement to build open access networks of scholarly and peer-reviewed texts with the mandate of freeing discourse from institutions. For the purpose of my exploration I have to put them to the side: the medium is a little too much the message. If we’re going to think about shifting to a co-operative model of publishing, we have to think of a broader audience and simply cannot ignore how little precedent exists for publishing fiction.

 

Therefore, we need to move a little bit outside the model to find a place to start from in the present landscape. Enter Room, a Vancouver-based feminist literary journal, which has been run by a small staff and a large collective editorial board since 1975. The collective means that each issue is headed by a different editorial team, effectively sharing the load and keeping overhead low; editors are provided an honorarium, staff are often wearing multiple hats, and the rest is filled in by volunteer passion (“About Room”). However, at the end of summer 2017 Room released a call-to-action: due to lower-than-expected revenues and a change in website operation, Room needed to reach out to its community for donations and boost at least 200 subscriptions. In their campaign, publisher and managing editor Meghan Bell and Chelene Knight point out other CanLit journals who have run the risk of folding in recent years: Descant, when their Canada Council funding was reduced; and The Capilano Review, when the journal ceased to receive backing from its partner institution Capilano University and also launched a crowdfunding campaign. For Room, like The Capilano Review, the effort worked; Room received $500 above its $5000 fundraising goal; Capilano received enough donations to effectively cover their first year’s operational start-up costs (Bell).  The results are heartening; when called upon, the community banded behind these two publications because, for them, content and the circulation of culture won out.

However, I hesitate to celebrate too soon. Between the three examples I have briefly described–New Society Publishers, Room, and The Capilano Review–all three are running only after a brush with insolvency and the saving swoop of one–or a hundred– collective-minded folk who believe in the core mandate of each project. How many other collective or co-operative publishing initiatives have had similar trajectories? Is this trajectory necessary for a publishing project to move from capitalist to co-operative model? Each publisher had the clout of over 20 years of production behind them; partnering through an angel investor or crowd-sourced funds are there exactly because the projects were deemed worthy to keep alive (and rightly so). Perhaps I have to adjust my own thinking: that a co-operative cannot spring out of the ground fully formed, but is something slower and more organic, the product of years of brand-building, hard work and the coalition of like minds.

 

Perhaps then the most hopeful way forward is not co-operation within a company, but between companies. The Meet the Presses Collective of small and independent literary presses in Toronto collaborates to put forward curated public events, notably the Indie Literary Market, that allows collective members to market new or undistributed publications directly to the reader. In parallel and an ocean away, business analysts have noted the growing trend in European premium publishers (primarily media outlets) forming coalitions to collectively run through surplus advertising inventory and accurately scale audience segments (Shields). Small publishers can remain small and in control of their practice and mandate when they band together. The support network created can act in a co-operative way, at least for the distributive and funding aspects of publishing. In the digital age where networks between geographically-distant bodies are not only possible but readily accessible, it isn’t hard to imagine this as a model for a future social publisher.

 

I feel the need to clarify my situation in context of all of this: I am a white settler-Canadian female who has had lived most of her life in the benefit of both capitalism and social programs. I have had the privilege of being able to pursue higher education, of travelling freely, of living comfortably and having my basic human needs supported by my government’s social policies. I’ve been able to read what I’ve desired to read. I’ve had it really good. However, my relative privilege enables me to see the disastrous effects capitalism has wrought upon marginalised peoples (colonialism), the global environment (globalisation), and the collective psyche (deindividuation). As a result I can’t help but feel both the numbness Stiegler describes,  as well as a deep anger and dissatisfaction at the continuation of such blatant exploitation. But I really do think that we are at a moment of change, though it might be incremental, and I have to believe Publishing as a field has a role to play. Publishing is foremost about content and distribution, and so by beginning to work through publishing models, I am staking my position and starting the steps of what might be a life’s work, or at the very least a practice’s guiding principle. It’s hardly possible to find one answer to the problem of capitalism by the end of this essay. What I have begun to find, however, are new ideas of modelling the kind of industry I want to live in: one in which communities and networks truly support each other, content is valued appropriately, and human and natural resources are not exploited in the interest of profit margins. The next step is to start building.

Works Cited

  • “About.” Meet the Presses Collective. <meetthepresses.wordpress.com/about> Accessed o1 Oct 2017.
  • “About Room.” Room Magazine. The West Coast Feminist Literary Magazine Society. <roommagazine.com/about>. Accessed 01 Oct 2017.
  • Bell, Meghan and Chelene Knight. “We Need Your Help.” Room Magazine. The West Coast Feminist Literary Magazine Society. <roommagazine.com/subscription-drive-2017> Accessed 01 Oct 2017.
  • Bhaskar, Michael. The Content Machine. Anthem Press, 2013. pp. 6, 80.
  • Nash, Richard. “What is the Business of Literature?” VQR Online, Spring 2013. <www.vqronline.org/articles/what-business-literature> Accessed 27 Sep 2017.
  • “People, Planet and Profit in Publishing.” National Observer (Sponsored Content). Dec 2016. <www.nationalobserver.com/2016/12/12/people-planet-and-profit-publishing> Accessed 01 Oct 2017.
  • Plant, Chris. “From Candlelight to Leading Lights.” BC Bookworld, Summer 2009. pp. 22-23.
  • Stiegler, Bernard. “Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals: Disbelief and Discredit [Excerpt]” trans. Daniel Ross. The Nordic Journal of Aesthetics, vol. 23 no. 44-45 (2012-2013). <tidsskrift.dk/nja/article/view/8185> pp. 129-134.
  • Squires, Clare. Marketing Literature. Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. pp. 22-24
  • Shields, Ronan. “‘Better Together?’–The Publisher Co-op Model Explored.” Exchange Wire. Feb 2015. <www.exchangewire.com/blog/2015/02/04/better-together-publisher-co-op-model-explored> Accessed 01 Oct 2017.
  • “Why Start a Co-operative?” Canada Business Network. The Government of Canada. <canadabusiness.ca/blog/why-start-a-co-operative-1> Accessed 01 Oct 2017.

Works Consulted

Cooking with video

Now that personalized entertainment is more readily accessible than ever, people are experiencing bursts of entertainment anywhere an internet connection is available. As video consumption has shifted from prime-time to all-the-time–and to address this shift in behavior, there is a need for new marketing models when it comes to video strategy. No longer do people have to share the television, when they can access the web.  Are publishers waiting for them when they log-in?

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capitalist firm that has helped build and accelerate growth at pioneering companies like Amazon, Google, Lending Club, Nest, Twitter, projects that by 2017, 74% of all internet traffic will be video (Meeker, 2015), and with mobile watch time on YouTube already surpassing desktop in 2015, the time for brands to make sense of their online video content marketing strategy is now — like yesterday.

Three hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, so when a consumer turns to their mobile device, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer, they can choose from a nearly limitless library of on-demand content. This makes what they choose to watch more personal than ever.

What is a video micro-moment?

When consumers looks for answers, discover new things, or make decisions, (this sounds like a good opportunity for any number of books/magazines), these instances are called “micro-moments,” a term coined by Google. They can happen in search, on a brand’s website, in an app, and, increasingly, they are happening on YouTube.

These moments of intent are redefining consumer behaviour. In order for a company to win at video micro-moments, they have to know how to identify them and how to respond.  

Video micro-moments generally fall into four broad categories:

video-micro-moments-what-do-they-mean-for-your-strategy-chart

In a micro-moments world, intent trumps identity.

Lucas Watson, VP of Global Brand Solutions and Innovations at YouTube, suggests that brands can remain relevant and useful by understanding the intention of their prospective consumers. Though it remains significant to know “who” the consumer is (age, gender, interests, etc.), for the video micro-moment play to work, one must understand “why” and “what/how”. Why is this person searching and what do they hope to do/how do they intend to use the information, once they have it. Is there other related information that could be presented? In a micro-moment world, intent trumps identity.

Publishers have an opportunity, books and magazines, as media for the transfer of information, have built up consumer trust. People are willing to turn to books and magazines to 1. be entertained, 2. be informed, 3. learn “how-to,” 3. purchase (primarily magazines).

Creating video content can be expensive, and there may not be enough time, money, or other resources. The recommendation is to create content gradually and build an engaging library over time. With a traditional production mind-set, this may sound daunting, but to produce at scale requires rethinking that production process, and getting a little help while you’re at it.

create-collaborate-curate

 

 

 

 

That’s where “CCC” comes into play—Create, Collaborate, Curate. The idea is to use this framework to “feed the content monster,” so that content creation—video production, specifically—no longer feels like a barrier to entry into the video marketplace.

Some publishers have already begun using this model, most notably, Harper Collins. They started an online video content division in 2010, focused on Young Adult books, called Epic Reads.

They have gained over 10.5 million views to date and use the CCC model to some degree. They are currently continuing their efforts to aggressively  target collaboration opportunities, and to branch out beyond the obvious “new book release” tagline.

Start up costs may seem prohibitive, but at this juncture the book crowd must flex the brain muscle to figure out how to get his done or face loosing more ground to other media formats. There exists opportunities to create high quality videos on a small budget, e.g. working with up coming videography groups or  film students, even if infrequently, and using  other collaboration opportunities to generate the additional content, perhaps with YouTubers looking for content, as the CCC model suggests.

Here’s some on the CCC model:

Create

The first type of content in the CCC framework is created by the brand. It feels like the brand, captures the brand’s tone, and offers a more traditional creative polish. It tells a story about the brand that’s entertaining, educational, or inspiring. “Create” content might simply be entertaining video that gets people’s attention, or it might deliver on the specific micro-moments we talked about earlier, such as how-to content in an I-want-to-do moment.

Collaborate

This content is the product of the brand’s collaboration with digital influencers. It’s often content that features a YouTube creator and is produced and promoted in partnership with the creator’s channel. Ultimately, the goal of “Collaborate” content is to help brands broaden their relevance and connect with a uniquely engaged fan base while leveraging the expertise of experienced creators.

Curate

Make a story, arrange the videos into distinct groups to be enjoyed by the consumer in a block, at their leisure. An example is a series of videos with interviews or DIY tutorials.

Book publishers are in the game, many medium to large outfits have some online presence, but are they branching out to meet their consumers, or are they predominantly waiting on consumers to be interested in a particular title and then go searching. How can they bring people to the books without screaming “hey, new book!” Here are some recommendations on that front (some already being used by the other side of the business, the magazine gang).

1. Identify the micro-moments where your audience’s goals and your brand’s goals intersect

 

what-brands-stand-for-what-audiences-care-about-venn-diagram-3

People go to YouTube millions of times each day, looking for videos that meet their needs, wants, and interests. Once a publisher has mapped out their consumer’s micro-moments, they can then move to understand their own place on the map: Where does the brand have the right to play?

Beauty brand Sephora, for example, knew that beauty content on YouTube grew by 50% from 2014 to 2015 and that YouTube searches related to “how-to” were up 70% year over year. For Sephora, how-to videos and tutorials were the magical intersection of the brand’s beauty-centric message and its audience’s beauty needs. That how-to and tutorial content now makes up more than 60% of Sephora’s library of video content. (ThinkWithGoogle, 2015)

Closer to home, in magazine world, TeenVogue started a YouTube channel back in 2006, to meet their customers where they live. They were ready and waiting. Their articles, and advertisers offer information and products on health, celebrity gossip, social issues, and much more.

teen vogue

2. Be there when your audience is looking with useful content that answers their needs

With an understanding of the pathways your consumer might take, plan a strategy to intercept them at the most opportune times. The first step is creating relevant, useful YouTube content that adds value in those key micro-moments. The second is making sure your brand shows up when they need you, with organic and paid search, for example, or with shopping ads on YouTube.

3. Help your audience find you, even when they’re not looking, with relevant video ads
Even when people aren’t actively looking for answers, brands can “delight” them by showing up with messaging that’s relevant to their interests. That means going beyond demographic targeting and connecting with viewers based on signals of intent or context.

Here are some scenarios:

  • Create — A person is online searching for fantasy related information e.g. are ghosts real, what are some super human abilities? Perhaps run the video below as an ad, before they watch the content they searched for:

  • Collaborate — A Beauty YouTuber wants to create another beauty vlog, but wants to set it a part in some way from all the others she has done, and all the others that the other Beauty Vloggers have done. A publishing house wants to promote a new book it thinks is hot and the lead character at some point in the story gets all “glammed” up. Here’s an opportunity to cross-pollinate — this YouTuber has 16, 000+ subscribers.

  • Curate — Put all those lovable videos you’ve created or collaborated on into a playlist, you’d be surprised that people will sit and let one video run into the next, after they’ve clicked through from their search for superhuman strengths or their quest to find out the truth about ghosts.

Finally, context is key, beyond sharing video ads before or during video content, you can share your ads when people are in the mood for that messaging. For example, when consumers are already watching a commentary video on feminism, then perhaps an in-video ad on a book about successful women in the workplace or how to be successful as a woman in the workplace would be a good fit.

It is important to be where the customers are, not just in terms of where they are when making purchases i.e. on e-commerce sites, but also where they lounge around, and hang out with friends (real or of the online variety). There are even opportunities to meet consumers in real time via some sites, but that can be discussed at another time. Companies that prove themselves useful and relevant in the most micro-moments—will establish the greatest brand equity in an era of infinite consumer choice. If your brand isn’t there in your audience’s moments of need, another brand will be.

Sources

  • Google Consumer Survey. U.S. online population ages 18-34; n=385. April 2015
  • Google Data, Q1 2014–Q1 2015, U.S.
  • Google Consumer Surveys. U.S. 10 platforms surveyed: YouTube, Hulu, ESPN.com, Facebook, ComedyCentral.com, Tumblr, Instagram, Vimeo, AOL, MTV.com.  March 2014
  • Larson, Kim. Building a YouTube Content Strategy: Lessons From Google BrandLab. www.thinkwithgoogle.com. Google. July 2015
  • Meeker, Mary. “2015 Internet Trends Report.” Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. May 2015
  • Watson, Lucas. “Video micro-moments: What do they mean for your video strategy?.” www.thinkwithgoogle.com. Google. October 2015
  • The Consumer Barometer Survey, Question asked: “Why did you watch online video(s)” n=2,119, Base: internet users (accessing via computer, tablet or smartphone) who have watched online video in the past week, answering based on a recent online video session, 2014/2015.