Repost From not so long ago: July 20, 2010. Given the excitement over Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler.
Amidst radical change forced on them by major advances in technology (largely out of their control), a small group of leading media producers have joined together to establish their own (insert word): broadcaster, publisher, studio, agency. Unlikely? Not now, because the functions that support these traditional media companies are increasingly becoming commoditised, enabling the creative producers (writers, authors, producers, etc.) to potentially collect more of the revenues generated from their creative output. While individual authors have gained some attention by 'going direct,' either by working through Amazon (J.A. Konrath) or direct to consumers via the iPad (Ryu Mirakami), it may be that traditional publishers have more to fear from groups of authors, editors and agents conspiring to establish their own media companies. These new companies would leverage the available low-cost 'back office' functions and the readily available supply-chain provision to dis-intermediate the traditional publishing monolith.
In 1919, United Artists was formed by D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. These four performers established United Artists to gain greater control over their own work and to produce other work they thought valuable. The four partners eventually hired an executive to run the operation who, in addition to signing new actors and producers to United Artists, also established a movie theater chain. United Artists, however, ultimately was unsuccessful as the changes in the industry largely exceeded the ability of the partners to adapt. Yet this model resonates in an age where 'infrastructure' is becoming less important than author, character and content branding.
If a similar group of content creators were to establish a new "United Artists" organization they wouldn't find it difficult to hire executives to act on their behalf to establish a new publishing organization. This new organization would be unencumbered by either the traditional publishing model or (more importantly) the cost structure of the business. These United Artists would sit atop an organization that would be largely supported by external third-party agreements with accounting firms, editorial and production services, distribution and fulfillment, etc. Important value-added services such as marketing, promotion, content rights and licensing - those functions that, by definition, worked closest to the content creators and added real value to the consumer experience would be full-time hires of United Artists.
In discussing authors 'going direct,' there are frequent suggestions that this could become an avalanche with traditional publishers seeing their best and most profitable content producers leave the fold. This belies the difficulty of an author having to do all the nasty stuff the publisher does for them if they go it alone. However, what if the author became a partner in his or her own publishing company? Then, perhaps, the model changes and the options begin to look more appealing for the content producer and potentially problematic for the traditional publisher. Could recently reported news by Variety that Steve Ross had joined joined Abrams Artist Agency to provide "consulting services to a select list of clients" be an indication that PND isn't the first to revive the United Artists idea?
See my post from last week about scale and infrastructure: The Baked Beans are Off.