Multiform Publishing

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 11:59

How to plan multiform publishing

Creating a book starts with an idea and material to support it. This is mashed into an editorial and design plan with a key ‘consumer-type’ in mind. Next come plans for the route to the market for this. Alongside there’s a strategy for promotion and marketing. Then follow plans for book production, manufacturing, distribution and sales. 

Although this is something all publishers know, it’s worth reviewing the process. The reason is that digital technologies, techniques and tools bring a range of new opportunities and perceptions to the picture. With the new opportunities, it’s wise to plan for more than one outcome. And not necessarily as an alternative but as parallel outcomes too. At the outset, in other words, think as widely as possible about the opportunities as a whole; the core idea is only the seed from which the opportunities grow. 

This approach can be called 360-degree publishing. It has two main parts, one more theoretical, the other practical. With these mapped out, plans can be prioritised and put into practice, ideally also identifying the different steps and stages that support, enhance and extend other parts of the plan.

What to think

Start by thinking about the idea itself ... a story, a set of photographs, a course book, a mission statement. Although these may be framed in terms of a book, think as well about the essence of the idea. With the essence in view it becomes easier to imagine what else can be done with it, ‘beyond’ the book itself. Also think about the different kinds of people who may be interested in whatever forms the idea begins to take. 

Think about which different media, will suit it best. 

For a story, will it be best as a good long read? Or as a film? Or as an audio recording? Or as a play for the theatre? For photographs, will they be appreciated best in a book or in an exhibition or in an audio-visual slide show, or as posters, or holograms, or light-shows? How will a course-book be most useful? Will it support a lecture, or be followed online, or presented as a video or an interactive website? How will a mission statement have most impact? Delivered personally or in an email or on a website or in a video talk? And so on. 

Finally, look at the plan as a whole and, wherever ‘or’ is used, change it to ‘and’ ... and see how that looks. This exercise is the introduction to 360-degree thinking, planning, visualising and more. The important thing is to shift creative thinking away from dependence on the book. It’s the idea and the material supporting it that matter most; a book is only one medium to use for communicating it. 

Then what to do?

The biggest challenge after devising the 360-degree plan is to know how to realise the different opportunities. Uncertainty about that can constrain ideas from the start. A publisher knows what is needed to make a book and how to make it ... but a film? Or a commercial event? Another question will be to think about how an exhibition, for instance, that would normally be used for promoting or publicising a book, can be made into a money-earning event as well. Unfamiliar skills and contacts will be needed. 

Start the next (second) stage by making a chart of the ideas ... a list, a sketch, a spreadsheet, a mind-map ... anything that can be seen ‘at a glance’. Then prioritise the items. 

One priority is familiarity ... if a book is the easiest thing to plan, put that at the top of the ‘practical’ column of things to do. Another is cost ... what is the order of ideas in the ‘cost’ column? Another is ‘profitability’ ... so that’s another column. Another is ‘complexity’, reflecting the difficulty of realisation; this might include the number and kind of people involved as well. Another thing to think about is promotion. This covers not only each product or service in the 360-degree plan, but also the idea as a whole, because one product or service is quite likely to be helpful to others. 

And don’t forget that you may want some products or services to be free, because they will help sell the others. Another thing to plan for is time, although this is complicated because it covers time to create, time to sell, time to break even, time to profit. Another aspect of timing is sequence ... not all parts of the plan will be started together because one may be needed to prepare the way for others. 

In practice

What does such an approach look like in practice? An example is a photography project with a difference.. In the 21st century a professional photographer experimented with a famous process dating from 1851, which had helped popularise photography at that time. He used original antique equipment to take portraits of friends and celebrities in the city where he lived. The photographs were beautiful enough to suggest an art book project. Wondering how to achieve that, he saw the potential for exhibitions, commissioned work, and some teaching too. 

If he had focused on the book he would have thought about an exhibition as a way to promote it, accompanying the launch. Then he’d have hoped commissioned work might follow from that. 

Instead, he decided to make the exhibition first, aiming to sell photographs there. He looked for commissioned work too, inviting the sitters to the exhibition and promoting the book at the same time. He had a mock-up of the book at the exhibition and took orders, or expressions of interest, too. Studio classes were also advertised. 

In this way, a hobby that might or might not have led to an art book turned into a long-term if low-key business venture. Later, he was able to work with a designer to produce a book for the clients for his commissioned photographs, and had this printed and bound by digital print-on-demand. 

He told the whole story on his website ... and this led to starting an online crowd-funding campaign to raise money for a full edition of the book, and for portrait commissions, and studio classes too. Finally, a publisher proposed to publish the book and suggested the possibility of an international edition too. 

By starting off thinking ‘out of the box’, being open to a different approach to the most obvious aim, he created made a more manageable, less risky, and more successful project overall. 

360-degree planning

This shows an approach to 360-degree planning. It shows how thinking differently at the start enabled a hobby to fulfil an ambition. Although it’s a specific case, it’s easy to see how the principle applies widely.

One key aspect of thinking and planning this way is that every stage puts the interests of the customer, the consumer first. This coincides with the Collaborative Consumer Community approach described in the previous blog. Together, the synergies are powerful.

Even if only some of the opportunities are followed through, and only some of those generate revenue, the fact of thinking about them serves the main project well. And the experience of doing so increases the success of future projects as well.