The Impatient Reader
Fred Seibert and I started Frederator Books in early 2013 as a digital-only publishing venture. Our focus was then, and remains now, to create entertaining books in digital form aimed at kids from the very young through ages that are (still) called “young adult” but really mean “readers of any age who want to have fun reading books.” So far in just more than a year of doing this, we’ve produced 30 books and have plans in the works for at least another 60 in the year to come.
As an in-house publishing laboratory connected to a successful animation company, we felt it was crucial that we be open to all sorts of new ways of thinking about books, while at the same time honoring the immersive reading experience. We have the unique benefit of learning about how young people are consuming media from the experience that Frederator Studios has with its wildly popular YouTube series, including Bravest Warriors and Bee and Puppycat, among others.
Bravest Warriors has had more than 21 million unique viewers and Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover network has over one million subscribers. After Bee and Puppycat launched in 2013, Frederator created the most successful animation Kickstarter campaign with over 18,000 individual contributors. So Frederator Books has had some great teachers.
We are certainly not alone in noticing that media consumption patterns have been radically changed over the past few years. DVRs have enabled people to watch television when they want to, and the rise of serial storytelling on cable networks shows that people love episodic story telling, with long arcs that can involve them over varying periods of time. Everyone is now familiar with the term binge watching.
But we also know that kids have been binge watching for years, and YouTube’s success is simply an indication of how deeply we are all committed to experiencing content in massive doses.
Consumers of all kinds of media are impatient. When we find a story, a show, a character we love, we want to experience more of them, and we don’t want to wait for more. Romance publishers and authors have learned their readers will consume new books like candy. Some romance readers read over 300 books a year! That demonstrates a real commitment to story.
While serial publishing in weekly magazines was once common, as books became standalone commodities in the twentieth century, publishers began to take their time to make books. Thus “slow” and “deliberate” became values publishers adhered to without ever questioning whether there could be a better way. Books often take as long as a year to two years from completion of manuscript to the delivery of final books. It’s true enough that editing takes time, along with typesetting, page layout, and cover design, but many publishers have demonstrated that production can be accomplished more quickly than this, and utilizing a purely digital workflow, books can be delivered much more quickly today.
Indeed, slow and deliberate may have been valuable characteristics for publisher operations in the past; publishers also convinced themselves that books “needed time” and that being slower in production time compared to newspapers and magazines was a benefit and a strength, producing books that were carefully written, edited, and marketing planned in advance, to make books thoroughly ready for market.
Retailers supported this deliberate publishing pace by telling publishers that if they did book sequels or books in series, to not issue new books too quickly, give the market time to develop and keep readers waiting for the next new book. Readers may have been dissatisfied with this situation but had no way to communicate their discontent. Any parent can confirm that children, in particular, cannot understand why when they love a character, there can’t be as many books for them to consume as they want – and we agree with them.
In a high speed interconnected culture, we don’t think slow to market publishing works very well anymore, even for print publishers, and as e-publishers, we want to be able to fill reader demand as quickly as we possibly can. Readers want the same flexibility and speed from reading experiences as they can get from a video watching experience. Our books are issued in short form when they are new, and then gathered into collections to suit our customers’ reading requirements once the story line is complete.
As book publishers, we believe that e-publishing gives us the unique opportunity to change the dynamic of how we relate to our customers. Books can be ubiquitous. We can read on our cell phones at the grocery check out, and later in the evening on an iPad, and maybe before going to bed on a dedicated reader, and all will be synchronized at all times. Content should be scaled to any screen size. And readers should be able to engage directly with the creators, telling them what they like or don’t like about their books, and enabling them to change their storylines and character development as their stories unfold, based on reader communication and engagement.
In fact, we are just as impatient as our readers are. We want to know what they are thinking and we want them to talk to us. Thus, everything we do is built around the idea that we are here to create delight, fulfill readers’ desires, and tell stories that engage them, whatever age they might be. It’s a rule to which we have so far adhered quite closely, that every project we take on should be episodic or serial in nature, so we can produce books just the way television shows produce episodes – books that are always immersive reading experiences that will reward readers’ impatience with hours of reading pleasure.
Will the Frederator Books approach and what we learn about our readers and how they consume our eBooks serve as a model for other publishers? We think it will.
Note - an earlier version of this piece was published March 5, 2014 by Publishing Perspectives