Are Publishers Ready to Make Movies?

In What's the Buzz by Hannah Johnson

Op-ed by Alex von Rosenberg

Frankfurt Storydrive jumped out at me as particularly relevant while I was reviewing events related to the 2010 Fair. The potential collaboration of companies dedicated to divergent areas of the media landscape is very exciting and long overdue. Long ago, the advent and spread of moving pictures combined with sound created and subsequently revolutionized many industries.

When television came along, the same occurred. Those that clung to old solutions in the face of this media were marginalized. Those that embraced it’s full potential became giants. For whatever reason, the explosion of Web access all across the world over 10 years ago was not enough for publishers to make the connection. Publishing, quite simply, is the acquisition, development, and distribution of content. Publishing should serve the medium, not be a slave to it.

It appears the latest generation of mobile, always connected, interactive devices has finally awoken many to the possibilities and, in fact, is begging for many of those that publish to free themselves from their self-imposed exile. But are publishers truly ready for what awaits?

Early efforts in television and film bear no resemblance to programs or features you see today. The notion In those early days, was that you just take the same thing and move it to the new medium. Sounds like an e-book doesn’t it? For news, simply film the person currently reading the news on the radio. For drama, film actors on a stage. This proved to be fairly boring to those making the productions and even more so to those watching.

Spurred by their imagination some visionaries began to introduce anything they could think of to enhance the visual presentation and make a stronger connection with the viewer. In film, things have evolved immensely since what some deem to be the first blockbuster studio
film Birth of a Nation in 1915 to Avatar today.

And for television it’s been the same, where the first hit show is considered to be Texaco Star Theatre which was simply the filming of Milton Berle’s radio program to what the BBC recently said is now the world’s most popular show, CSI: Miami. For both, the innovation and expansion of the possibilities that these visual mediums offer has never stopped.

In the context of publishing, when I talk about making movies I do not mean literally converting book content to an online film. What I mean is leveraging the full possibility of media. No Country for Old Men is an amazing work of fiction. Generally taking a picture of those pages and allowing access on a digital platform is a very reasonable experience to provide to the reader. You would not want to distract from the purity of Cormac McCarthy’s written word. However, when No Country for Old Men was made into a film hundreds of liberties were taken. A refocused script, costumes, actors, special effects, lighting, various camera angles, massive editing, sound, key grips, and millions of dollars, are just some of the things that transformed the written word to film.

In terms of classic fiction and some non-fiction I believe publishers will very much have the freedom to keep the written word sacred and to render it near the original book form on a wide range of elegant, portable, digital devices without hesitation or apology. That said, there will be those across all genres that will begin to blend media. More importantly, much of what has traditionally been communicated through print has much less to do with the art of the written word and much more to do with the cut-and-dried objective of transferring knowledge, aiding learning, developing skills, or providing perspective.

So who will be the visionaries that evolve the presentation of traditional book content to the digital media? I think the Education space is the area most ripe for such innovation and there are a few that are challenging the boundaries now. Soomo Publishing created a real movie/music video morphing One Republic’s smash hit “Apologize” with the history of the Declaration of Independence. Students were so taken that it now has nearly 1 million views on YouTube.

Further, Soomo has a particularly fast growing American Government “book” that ties student comprehension assessments to clips from movies, news footage, recorded audio, readings, and original source documents. What’s most non-traditional is that the material is organized freely around the topics rather than the linear construct of a book.

Companies like Kno and Inkling are leveraging new devices and mobile connectivity to transform traditional books. As these types of solutions merge and evolve, the ones that will define the future will be those that focus on blending the best possible experience for what the reader/viewer is seeking to accomplish without being limited by the structure of a solution that was developed for another place and time.

Alex von Rosenberg provides Consulting and Publishing Services to customers in the Higher Education space. Most recently Alex was the Executive Director of Sales and Marketing at Aplia. For the 4 years prior to that, Alex was Editor-in-chief for Business & Economics at Thomson/Cengage. In 2000, Alex founded Atomic Dog Publishing which was sold to Thomson Learning in 2006.

(This story originally appeared in the Publishing Perspectives show daily at the Frankfurt Book Fair on 8 October 2010. Download the complete show daily here or click on the image to view the online version.)

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.