Turning a book into a global entertainment franchise

As Aaron Safronoff’s fantasy novel Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall launches complete with spectacular music, animation, app game and VR experience, the co-founder and COO of Neoglyphic Entertainment, David Ramadge, explains the appeal and potential of transmedia book projects.

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Most authors and rights owners share a dream. Some keep it buried deep inside themselves, some pursue it with aggressive abandon. “I wish my story would be heard, I wish it would be turned into a movie, I wish fans would line up for days for the book launches…” – they want their story to be a worldwide entertainment franchise.

The creation of a transmedia success story is only a reality for 0.01% of titles, out of reach for nearly every storyteller or rights owner. The reason is not difficult to identify: it costs a lot of money to produce a film, make a video game, or build an app, and the emergence of Virtual Reality (VR) is yet one more medium requiring big bucks for big experiences.

Luckily, recent advances in technology and changing consumer behaviors mean that creating multi-media experiences will become not only more commonplace, but expected; just as books now need a website, a Facebook page and an author who loves to tweet. To be early in this wave, companies and creators must possess a willingness to break down old ways of working, across multiple industries.

How it has “always” worked

Publishing professionals know all too well the likelihood of success of a fiction book. Over decades the industry has adopted an approach of low-cost, medium-success-rate publishing. Printing and logistics are highly optimized. It doesn’t cost very much to publish a book. So we do it. We do it a lot. We tune business models to keep us above water until we have that breakout bestseller. It’s about scale and portfolio economics.

Films are different. The average cost of production (excluding marketing) for a major animated film is US$160m. As such, success rates needs to be much higher than with books. One way film studios minimize risk is to find IP that has already been successful, i.e. a proven story and built in audience. The Hunger Games has been read by 15% of adult Americans, but the movie was seen by twice that number. Even a classic like The Hobbit is neck and neck (15% have read the book, and 13% saw the movie). The book drives the film, and in turn the film drives more book sales. In film, it’s about hit driven economics.

Video games are somewhere in between. They also cost a lot, averaging US $50m+ for a modern “AAA” game (again, production budget only). But their failure rate is relatively high compared with big budget animated films. The video game industry is notorious for its graveyard of studios and publishers. They were never as aggressive as the film studios at securing existing IP, usually opting to create from scratch. That too is changing, as game-makers are realizing the power that great storytelling can have in their games. And like film, it’s also about hit driven economics.

What is changing?

Much to our pleasure, reading is very much still a thing. And by golly, even reading print books is experiencing a resurgence. The LA Times reported that 571 million print books were sold in 2015, up 3% over 2014. And ebooks, while gaining share, have slowed their march and currently occupy 25% of the total market.

However, the “share of day” spent on reading long-form fiction is declining as Millennials continue their move into their prime spending years. According to Goldman Sachs, nearly 50% of this digitally-native group play video games (vs 27% of Gen X-ers and 16% of Baby Boomers); and 80% of US households have a gaming device. And with the rise of powerful handheld devices and home based streaming, they are also spending less time at the cinema, opting for YouTube and other streaming services.

This, and subsequent, generations of entertainment customers aren’t anti-reading, they’re just more distracted and exist in a digital world just as much as they do in the real world. Storytellers, publishers and studios need to meet them there if they expect to remain relevant.

Add to all this is an enormous shift in the quality and accessibility of high-quality entertainment production platforms. GoPro put a tiny, go-anywhere 4K camera in the hands of anyone who wants one. Consumer drones can fly these cameras to capture epic big budget shots on a shoestring budget.

In the rendered entertainment world, my co-founder Dane Glasgow talks about the rise of game engines as a way to fundamentally lower the cost base for animated films. Virtual Reality deserves a mention too.

The good news for authors and rights owners

A great story is still at the heart of any great entertainment franchise. If you have a great story, a publisher/distributor/author should lean into turning consumers into customers, and customers into fans. Oftentimes, traditional marketing for a book (even a good book) can yield a negative return on investment. Augmenting your book with additional revenue streams (like a game, animated shorts, or musical soundtrack) can make marketing spend more effective.

The trick is getting comfortable with greater up front spend and risk to produce a franchise before your book sells a million copies.

At Neoglyphic, we believe this is possible. We use advanced data science, machine learning and a modern crowd-based focus-group approach to finding great stories. In addition to identifying a hit story, we also hone in on its associated market and what mediums would be the most complimentary for that audience (book, illustrated book, app, music, game, cinematic, etc.).

Most of the time, we then produce these products in parallel ourselves, but sometimes we do perform these analytical services for other publishers. The first major franchise we’re focusing on is Sunborn Rising, a fully-illustrated all-ages fantasy novel. The book itself just launched in the US and we are getting ready to release games, animated content, a dedicated app, Virtual Reality experiences and a musical soundtrack.

Because these various layers, and mediums, are being developed in tandem, we have been able better leverage assets in other ways. This parallel pipeline is what enabled us to achieve multiple products at significantly lower cost than if all were attempted independently.

In short, the idea of your book becoming a multi-media entertainment franchise is no longer fanciful. Consumers want it. And technology is enabling it at a more accessible cost. You don’t need to wait for the day Warner Bro. says you have the next Harry Potter. There are many small, modern creative studios around the world who are itching to take a great story and tell it using other media, the trouble isn’t finding them, it’s wanting to.

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