Friday, 16 November 2012

Cross-Platform Publishing - A Bluffer's Guide

While I was researching my SCBWI Conference Transmedia Session (which I'll be blogging about next week for anyone who can't make it), I kept running into new terms, ideas and trends, many of which can be baffling for the uninitiated. The world of publishing is moving very fast at the moment, especially in terms of the need to expand beyond the print book and embrace multiple platforms. If you're already asking what a platform is and how it affects you, then this glossary is here to help:

  • Platform – This is a word that can have many different meanings in the digital world. For instance, it could refer to the hardware platform used by an app or the network that an author establishes to sell their book. In this context, a platform is a particular method of delivering content to your audience – e.g. print book, e-book, DVD, TV, online game, blog, Twitter stream etc.
  • Media – This is pretty much synonymous with platform. The main reason I didn't use this to title the article is because Cross-Media has a slightly more restrictive meaning than Cross-Platform (see definition below).
  • Channel – Another tricky word. This could mean sales channel (e.g. Waterstones, Amazon, iTunes) or it can be synonymous with Platform and Medium (think TV channel).
  • Multiplatform – Exactly as it sounds (for a change): being present on multiple platforms.
  • Transmedia – A fictional or non-fictional work that exists across several media platforms simultaneously. Crucially, the content on each platform will be different – you have to experience the work on more than one platform to get the full effect.
  • Cross-Media – This used to mean the same as Transmedia (are you confused yet?) but has shifted to denote a single piece of content that's consumed via different platforms. For instance, if you buy a Blu-ray film nowadays, it often comes with a DVD copy and a digital download, allowing you to watch the same movie across media.
  • Multimedia – This became a popular term for the multimedia CD-ROMs sold in the 1990s, so it isn't used much nowadays to avoid adding even more confusion!
  • Intellectual Property – Often called IP or simply "property", this term is essential to modern publishing-speak. Quite simply, the property is the creative item at the heart of the media web. Whether it is a concept, a character or even a whole story world like Harry Potter, the property is what the publisher looks to exploit across multiple platforms. I choose the word exploit deliberately, because some creators can get a bit sniffy about having their beautiful artistic endeavour reduced to the level of a commodity. But they also rarely say no to the money that comes their way when their creation goes global (The comics writer Alan Moore is a notable exception).

    Eric Huang - who will be joining me at the Transmedia session - has the grand title of "New Business and IP Acquisitions Director" at Penguin Books. His job is to strategically buy-in properties that can be exploited across platforms – as in this recent announcement about Puffin Rock.
  • Rights – These are the permissions that the original creator grants to publishing and media companies, for the reuse of their copyrighted material. Rights are generally segmented by platform and regional market, and different companies may have rights to the same property. For instance, the copyright for the Fantastic Four is owned by Marvel Comics (which in turn is owned by Disney). However, the film rights for the Fantastic Four have been sold to 20th Century Fox, which is why you won't see Human Torch popping up in the next Avengers movie.
  • Licensing – This is a business distinction more than anything, describing how publishers choose to sell certain rights to other companies (such as in the Fantastic Four example above). What to license and to who is a complex decision – licensed products will tend to be less creatively satisfying, but a licensing deal can also offer strong revenues for minimal effort on the part of the licensor.
  • Franchise – Some properties like Harry Potter or Star Wars grow so large that they become unstoppable franchises. The ginormous $4 billion that Disney recently paid for Lucasfilm was based almost entirely on the revenue potential of the Star Wars franchise (but fair play to George Lucas, who has decided to give most of the money to charity).
  • Brand – Brands are an inescapable part of modern life – from Apple to Zanussi, companies are desperate to sell us their branded products and somehow induct us into cult-like brand loyalty. Most franchises are also brands in one way or another. With publishing, it's hard to define whether the brand is the publisher, the author, the book or even a particular character. All are possible - consider Penguin as a publishing brand, James Patterson as an author brand, The Hunger Games as a book brand or Peppa Pig as a character brand.
  • Brand Extension – This is quite literally the process of extending a brand into new areas – think about how the Virgin brand has constantly morphed and shifted over the past few decades. In a publishing context, the term "media-extension" is sometimes used (as in this article) to denote expanding a book onto other platforms.

Phew! That was a whirlwind tour through the brave new world of cross-platform publishing. If you think there are any terms I've missed, please feel free to flag them in the comments. I appreciate that all this stuff can be confusing, and you might well say: "I'm just paid to write/illustrate the book - why should I care about all this?" My response would be to point out that we are no longer in a world where the book is the only thing that matters, and then leave you all to argue about how damaging/exciting that shift is.



  1. Thanks Nick. Looking forward to your talk. No pressure but I'm writing my MA thesis on the subject and considering the platforms my latest project can flow over in extending the storyworld. I hope it will help make it appeal to boys and reluctant readers. I'm an author-illustrator BTW.