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Why start a new genre business? October 21, 2008

Posted by chrismichaels in Uncategorized.
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I spent 6 months telling senior management at HarperCollins that the SciFi and Fantasy genre was in a period of transition. That things were changing we needed to respond to with smart, up-to-date ways of reaching the passionate, intelligent readers who consume this kind of stuff. And that there was a whole batch of next-generation readers out there we could reach if we did things differently.

The trouble for the SciFi and Fantasy genre is partly a local one: in the UK where we’ve started this business, there are local issues which have changed the context in which publishing in this space can succeed. If you look back over the last 7 years, the real changes which mattered most have been Tesco’s opening up supermarket audiences to a golden, but thin sliver of new books sold at major discounts; Amazon driving range selling and Richard & Judy giving vital navigation to confused consumers on the High Street. The problem for Genre? Of those three, only Amazon provides a way to sell and market our books – and whilst it’s an amazing, incredible retailer, it’s not necessarily creating new readers, more (at this point) transitioning them from other retail spaces.

In that kind of context, you can retrench and protect what you’ve got – and HarperCollins already has amazing genre books, with Tolkien out on his own and the whole Voyager list the gold standard in publishing big-name players in the field, with George, Ray, Terry and Robin on the books, amongst others. Or you can do something else, new.

So the question was, what should we do that goes in a different direction? We believed in the technological smarts of the genre audience – that whether existent or potential consumers, they were deeply engaged online, and therefore reachable with a new way of operating.

So we said could we do something that took all the tools of the digital age – the creation and management of niche global communities, mass-distribution of assets, direct selling, single-content sources becoming multiple, consumer-controlled end-products – and make them serious, central parts of a new kind of publishing business? A publishing business that engaged with our traditional retail partners to reach the public at the same time as it stood alone as a direct-to-consumer brand, and at the same time as it built new kinds of commercial partnerships to take its acquisitions to the public?

We think we can. And so Angry Robot was born in a mixture of happy fortune (Marc leaving Solaris / The Black Library and giving us a publishing commandant extraordinaire) and good old-fashioned strategic planning (ie, I ran around for a month wielding a spreadsheet, trying to make numbers make sense).

Now we’ve got to make that vision flesh.

There’s a lot we’re going to announce in the months ahead ahout how we’re going to sell and market our words – you’ll hear about that side of things here from me.

Some stuff I’ll say as if it’s the greatest innovation in history, and you’ll think, “that’s so obvious, everyone should do that”. And then i’ll agree and tell you why publishers DON’T do that.

And some stuff i’ll just say, and hopefully it will be the greatest innovation in history without me realising it. We’ll see.

But mostly I hope we can share some interesting thinking from the frontline of trying to change the way a big publisher reaches the marketplace.

However this figures out, I believe what I believed a year ago when I started thinking about the opportunities for genre publishing: there’s a new way out there, we just have to make it happen.

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