Telling the story: creative writing and business models
By Anthony Haynes
One of the imprints my company, The Professional and Higher Partnership, publishes is Creative Writing Studies. This brings me into frequent contact with writers of fiction. As a result, I’ve often found myself in conversations concerning the relationship between creativity in (a) writing stories and (b) developing a creative enterprise.
My own experience, as a publisher and author, is that the creativity involved in writing and in entrepreneurship feels pretty much the same. I encounter a range of responses to this view. At one end of the spectrum, are writers who regard it as doubtful, perhaps even offensive: they regard the business of business as the antithesis of the business of writing. At the other end are writers who simply take my view for granted.
We can call these two views respectively the divergent and the convergent. In this post I would like to explain my own version of the convergent view.
For me, the link between the two contexts is best articulated by Joan Magretta in “Why Business Models Matter” (Harvard Business Review, May 2002). Magretta argues that business models “are, at heart, stories – stories that explain how enterprises work’: in essence, “creating a business model is…a lot like writing a new story. According to Magretta, a firm’s value chain has two parts:
Part one includes all the activities associated with making something: designing it, purchasing raw materials, manufacturing, and so on. Part two includes all of the activities associated with selling something: finding and reaching customers, transacting a sale, distributing the product or delivering the service.
I have found this view very helpful in designing what I call our workflow – the set of processes involving authors, editors, designers, typesetters, proofreaders, and indexers by which typescripts are created and refined – and the supply chain – by which I mean here, not the chain through which businesses sell to us, but rather the book industry supply chain through which our publications reach their readers.
In this post I won’t say any more about our workflow, since I have already described it a previous post (“Designing workflow“). Instead let’s focus on our version of the supply chain.
We can tell the story of how our publications reach their readers by outlining three main plots, which we can call (a) Digital, (b) Print, and (c) Licensing. Let’s follow each narrative in turn.
The first event in the Digital narrative is that we send our publication, in PDF form, to an e-book converter. We use Gardners as our converter. Gardners convert the file into various e-book formats – typically ePub and Web-PDF.
The next step is that the e-book files are forwarded to our digital distributor. In our case, that is very simple, because we use Gardners (specifically their Digital Warehouse service) as our distributor too.
From their, the e-book are sold to two types of business, namely retailers (for example, Apple iBookstore) and suppliers (such as Askews). From there our e-books reach readers either directly (from retailer to consumer) or via libraries.
Thus the plots we have identified so far run:
(ii) PDF→converter→distributor→library supplier→libraries→reader.
There is a further variant on the Digital narrative. This is when the e-book is forwarded from the converter to a cloud library such as 24symbols. From there, readers can access the e-book in ePub format) direct. So:
(iii) PDF→converter→cloud library→reader
The second narrative is Print. The first event in this narrative is that we send our PDF to our printers (for example, Biddles). From the printer, copies have two destinations. The first is our print distributor, Central Books. Central Books in turn sell the book on to four further types of destination: they sell (a) to library suppliers, (b) to wholesalers (for example, Bertrams), (c) to retailers (for example, Waterstones) and (d) direct to readers via Central’s own website.
The Digital narrative thus comprises the following plots:
(iv) PDF→printer→distributor→library supplier→libraries→reader.
The second destination from our printers is retailers. For example, in North America we don’t have an equivalent to Central Books: in effect, our printer there (Lightning Source) supplies the book trade direct. So:
The fourth narrative is Licensing. This narrative has two main plots. The first involves co-publishing. We have appointed Harriman House to sell translation rights to foreign publishers. In addition, we sometimes sell publishing rights direct to publishers. For example, Allen & Unwin have acquired the rights to co-publish some volumes in our Professional and Higher Education series in various territories (for example, Australasia and the Americas). From whichever publish acquires the translation or co-publishing rights, the publication reaches readers via that publisher’s version of the industry supply chain.
We can summarise these plots as follows:
(ix) PDF→translation rights rep.→3rd party publisher→publisher’s supply chain→readers.
(x) PDF→co-publisher→co-publisher’s supply chain→readers.
In the second main version of the Digital narrative, we provide the PDF to a licensor, namely Paperight. Paperight sell licenses to other businesses. For example, in parts of the world ill-served by bookshops, a stationery shop may set up as an outlet, provided it has an internet connection and a printer (and preferably some form of binder, such as a ring-binder): that outlet can then acquire a license to supply printed copies to their customers. Thus:
Overall, then, our supply chain story comprises eleven plots. (In fact, there is also a twelfth, which is non-commercial: we supply e-books in mobi format to a not-for-profit called Worldreader, who load the books onto Kindles that they distribute to teachers and pupils in selected African schools.) An illustration of the story as a whole is attached here in flow diagram form.
If it sounds complicated, that is because it is. It is novelesque in scale – if not Tolstoyan, at least Turgenevian. Is it over-complicated? As publishing models change, it is becoming so. I would not be surprised to find that, within a few years, we have just two plots:
- PDF→converter→cloud library→libraries→readers
- PDF→converter→cloud library→readers
– and, as e-book conversion becomes better codified, that is likely to be performed either by ourselves or by the cloud library. But the question of how the models are changing may be left to subsequent posts.
The good news about our current supply chain story is that the complexity needs to be managed by ourselves, not by our readers. From the readers’ perspective, the complexity expresses itself merely as choice.
That is, readers can choose which format they wish to read a publication in and where they wish to acquire it from. They can read a publication as:
- a downloadable e-book (as, say, an ePub file or PDF);
- an e-book on the cloud (in ePub form);
- a hardback;
- a softback;
- in other print formats (e.g. ring-bound).
And they may acquire the content in digital form from:
- a library
- a cloud library
- an online retailer
– or, in print form, from:
4. a library
5. a bookshop
6. an alternative outlet, such as a stationers
7. our distributor.
Overall, then, our supply chain story may be assigned to the choose-your-own-adventure genre. Though it demands some creative effort to design, that effort is justified by the choices the story provides to our readers.