When Lisa Holton left her post as president of Scholastic Trade Publishing and Book Fairs in early fall 2007, she had the unprecedented experience of having managed the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows under her belt. She had solid know-how about launching major children’s series, having originated and overseen development of The 39 Clues, Scholastic’s much buzzed-about book and Web-based venture, which launches this September. She also had a specific plan of what she wanted to do next in her career, and this week, she announced what that plan was: Fourth Story Media, a “studio” that integrates books and the Internet to develop children’s properties. Holton’s first book publishing partner will be one of her former employers: HarperCollins.
Fourth Story will produce stories and content that span multiple formats, including books, Web sites, online games, DVDs, audio/digital downloads and social networks. Its first series is The Amanda Project, an interactive, collaborative fictional mystery series for girls aged 12 to 14, told across a variety of different media including books, a Web site that features games and a social networking platform, a related series of blogs and satellite sites, music, and merchandise. Fourth Story, which owns all rights for the property, will produce the content for The Amanda Project with a creative team including Web design agency Happy Cog, young adult authors, artists and graphic designers. The project’s Web site will be up and running by the end of this year. Throughout the spring of 2009 Fourth Story will continue to build it, adding more features, and the first book—published under the HarperCollins flagship imprint—will come out in fall 2009. Seven more will follow.
“I’ve always been interested in online,” Holton told PW last month. “As each new generation comes up, they interact with technology and the Web in a totally different way than adults do. And what we call multitasking is not, to them. They move in and out seamlessly. They can be listening to music, chatting with their friends, looking at something online, reading. They did not grow up pre-Internet. I continue to think about where books fit into their lives.”
Holton said that when she was managing Harry Potter, she and a small group of colleagues—there were 12 of them—took an integrated approach; “everyone was part of everything.” She is recreating that method at Fourth Story, having recruited about 20 people—all freelance at this point—including writers, designers, computer programmers, information architects, to work on The Amanda Project. “When you bring really talented people together for the same project, they feed off each other,” Holton said.
Holton’s experience on The 39 Clues inspired her to approach children’s publishing with a wider lens, and not just for that one project. “I realized I wanted to work with a very small group of people, very entrepreneurially, and just focus on inventing and experimenting.” She said she thought about leaving the corporate world for a long time. “As I took on more and more responsibility over my career, running two big publishing divisions, there was always a part of me that wondered what it would be like if I had my own little shop, and could wear jeans, and use my MacBook.”
Fourth Story Media’s offices are at 115 South Street, and the company shares its space with Will Schwalbe, who left Hyperion in January to launch his own business. Holton said Schwalbe is working in a similar Internet space, in adult publishing.
The Amanda Project will invite users to create their own character profiles, which Holton hopes will appeal to tween and young teen girls. “Girls like to use technology to create their own stuff. They use it as a means to express themselves. Boys play games,” Holton said. Users can also design their own t-shirts, buttons, charms, notebooks, stationery and e-cards, and take quizzes. The site will be a mix of gaming and social networking.
Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, told PW, “The Amanda Project falls in line with our vision for the future of children’s publishing, which we believe will become more of a multi-platform experience to some degree. The children's division at HarperCollins will be looking aggressively at growth opportunities which includes strategic investments in related businesses.”