The idealized vision of writers toiling away at their art in solitude may not be going anywhere, but it’s also not the sole vision of how writers will produce quality work in the near-distant future. Let’s face it: we are experiencing a cultural revolution brought on by the sharing generation, and sharing-economy practices will not ignore the publishing industry. After all, why do all stories need to be a one-way exchange of ideas from writer to reader? Why can’t stories be written collaboratively by multiple authors and shared as they are written?
Sharing technologies such as Uber and Airbnb have proven that huge efficiencies are available when you take a Dickensian business model and share the resources within a network. The sharing model can actually thrive more easily in publishing than in other industries, because stories can be easily crowdsourced and consumed in real time.
Before you pronounce the death of great literature, it’s important to examine how publishing has evolved.
Traditional print publishing is gatekeeper driven. The traditional publishing model has focused mostly on large-scale print production and relies on a small number of retained authors with a proven track record of generating commercially successful work. The relationship between publisher and author is nurtured at a high cost. Publishers control their ROI by focusing on a small number of proven writers. With the emergence of e-books, the risk of picking the wrong author is reduced, but because of print’s continued focus on big authors, large publishing organizations are still a tough nut to crack for new authors or hard to categorize material.
Digital publishing is automation driven. Digital publishers saw an opportunity to automate many of the steps of traditional publishing, including digitizing books. This created cost efficiencies and increased the size of the market but the essential process of creating content remained the same. Hundreds of Internet-based publishers emerged to sell digital books, which gave birth to self-publishing and hybrid models in which authors pay partners to be published in exchange for a higher percentage of royalties. While digital publishing has expanded the number of published authors, it has not generated the revenues of traditional publishing, or garnered much respect for its content.
The sharing model of publishing is profile driven. In the newest sharing model of publishing, bits of stories are crowdsourced, and the community defines the best writing. Whereas the other models rely on the market to determine quality after the publishing process is complete, with customers using their wallets to vote, the sharing model publishes stories that have already been embraced by the crowd, eliminating the risk of publishing unwanted material. Instead of being process driven, the sharing model is profile driven. Readers and writers sit at the heart of this ecosystem of content generation, with their profiles defining the value they bring. A good analogy for how this model has evolved is the job postings market. Monster automated the process of scanning newspaper job postings. LinkedIn then focused on the profile of job seekers and allowed the community to crowdsource their careers.
Today there’s a similar opportunity for writers with the new sharing models of publishing crowdsourced original content through “competitive collaboration,” with writers competing to write sections of a story, and readers voting to determine which sections are published. Models like this turn the storytelling process into a social media experience.
By now, everyone in publishing knows the precedent for fan fiction developing a commercial product. Fifty Shades of Grey started as a self-published twist on the Twilight series before evolving into a bestselling book series and movie franchise. This illustrates how publishing models can support one another. The best stories emerge and can be turned into e-books. If they are exceptional, traditional publishing can take them far and wide. Collaborative content will reduce the risk for publishers by having the next generation of authors self-select.
Hollywood and the entertainment industry can also benefit from collaboration and expand engagement with licensed brands and characters. The sharing model of publishing can provide a valuable source of discovering content and fostering interaction with loyal fans of a show or character. The sharing model is here to stay and holds great promise for the future of publishing, entertainment, and other forms of content. Nevertheless there will always be writers toiling away at their craft in solitude.
Chris Twyman, founder and CEO of Skrawl and BoomWriter Media, is a technologist, entrepreneur, and expert on digital publishing trends and innovations.