IP is the New PrimeTime

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 JP Colaco, head of ad sales for WarnerMedia . . . . said, “IP is the new primetime.”

Television execs are acting on this. They’re becoming platform agnostic (which raises its own problems) and they have learned, because of the pandemic, that people want to watch good television. They don’t care if that program was produced in 1980. They will binge whatever appeals to them.

Which is why the upfronts were so odd this year. A few networks didn’t even push their fall line-ups, which used to be essential for ad revenue. Now, these networks are pushing their platforms or even, at times, their older programming, trying to pair up the right ad with the right program in the right way so that consumers will see it all.

What I wrote in my blog was that, for publishers, IP should be the new frontlist. Rather than promoting the new books and titles at the expense of everything else, traditional publishers should be mining their backlist for items that will capture the moment.

For example, let’s take the pandemic. (Please, as the old comedians used to say.) If publishers had been smart, they could have combed their backlist for stories of survival in the middle of a plague.  Or maybe a few books that would make us all feel better about the extent of the pandemic we’re currently in. With just a little time on the Google (as a friend calls it), I found a dozen lists of good plague literature. None of the lists were published in 2020, by the way.

. . . .

The point isn’t whether or not the books are still in print—although that’s part of this argument. The point is also that the publishers themselves should be putting books like these out as part of their front list, books they’re throwing money behind so that readers know about them and buy them.

Because of my crazy summer, I decided to wait to write this small series of posts until the fall.  By then, every time I looked at the title of this blog, which I had listed as “IP is the New Frontlist,” I had forgotten where I saw the original quote. I had, instead, thought that some savvy book publisher person had said that at a book conference.

I decided to wait to see if publishers took any action on this before I wrote about it.

Shows how dumb I can be.

In those months, as the TV/film industry continued to alternately reel and innovate because of the pandemic and the impact on that entire industry, the book industry decided to pretend that nothing had happened in 2020—except an election here in the States and an insurrection in January of 2021.

They commissioned new books to deal with all of those things because—to be fair—no one had time-traveled to the future to write books on those things in 2019.

But publishers didn’t look through their inventory to find books relevant to those things. I have some books in my personal library, books on impeachment, on the U.S. Constitution and on the 1850s, which provides a rather terrifying roadmap for where we are now.

Publishers also didn’t look for books on health and wellness to keep people sane in lockdown or tons of classic literature on plagues and pandemics or incredible escapist fare for those of us who wanted to think of anything except death and dying.

To show you how little traditional publishing plans, the Bridgerton tie-in edition for Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, which was the basis for the first season, didn’t receive any promotion or advertising. The book released on December 1, but when I searched for it around December 15, I couldn’t find it. Avon put no money behind it.

They thought the series was going to tank.

That’s so different from the way most TV or film tie-ins are treated. Some of that was pure bigotry—traditional publishers make a lot of money on romance novels, but never think of them as anything other than garbage.

But some of it was sheer ineptness. It didn’t matter that the show was being produced (and shepherded) by Shonda Rhimes, who seems to have a golden touch with what she does. Nor did it matter that the show was on Netflix, which promotes the hell out of everything.

Avon saw a 20-year-old book and thought that putting together a tiny tie-in edition was more than adequate. It was so in-adequate that I couldn’t find the book two weeks later.

Friends overseas couldn’t get copies at all, and were begging for copies from the States. Then, when the book took off, it took a while for Avon to realize they needed Bridgerton editions of the whole series.

The book sales were skyrocketing and the books were increasingly hard to find. That’s terrible planning on the part of Quinn’s publisher. I’m sure Avon knew the TV show was coming; they just didn’t think a backlist series was worth their time.

Whoops.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

11 thoughts on “IP is the New PrimeTime”

      • Yes, her knee-jerk political asides are always irritating.

        It’s still good and useful material. Her POV on the industry is still valuable. I’m glad she’s willing to share her views on that.

        On the other hand, any impulse I ever had to read the rest of her massive pile of fiction is pretty thoroughly squelched, and the few samples I’ve read can’t overturn that.

        On a less important level, I’ve always been grateful to experts who are willing to share their insights with beginners, but it’s so much easier to take when they are less arrogant about it.

        • Agreed. Whether to put up with her generally well-camouflaged rants is a matter of personal taste.

          What she says can be valuable, but as it is with most choices in life one must weigh the importance of what one might learn against the annoyance or irritation one might have to endure.

          I don’t like ambushes and I don’t like hypocrisy, so I’ve chosen to remain clear of her. When I see her posts elsewhere (such as here at TPV) I glance over them, and if I find them of interest to writers, I include a link to the article in the “Of Interest” section of my Journal to enable my own readers to decide for themselves whether to read the article.

  1. The BPHs aren’t a particularly good example of proper IP exploitation. The talk a lot about it but successfully practice very little.

    Hollywood is a better teacher, both on how to do it for yourself and the pitfalls of letting someone else “help you”. Very educational, if you can afford the experience. (Best keep an extra suit of clothes handy.)

    And when the two camps do meet, tbere invariably is one true winner. And it’s not the manhattan mafia. The BPHs are plenty predatory but they’re lonely piranhas compared to the hollywood megalodons. True apex predators of the IP field.

  2. “…What I’d really like to see is that writers themselves learn the value of their IP. Traditionally published writers need to wake up and figure out how to get their rights reverted—and then publish those books themselves. Not that such a thing will happen. Those writers have had ten years-plus to figure this out, and most of them don’t even want to try, let alone think about it. But indies—that’s a different story. And too many of them are caught in the new-new-new treadmill. Time to step off that. So that, unlike traditional publishers, indies don’t squander their digital opportunities. The whole world is open to us. Time to accept that, and think about everything in a brand-new way.”

    Agreed. And why I don’t think of myself only as a “writer.” Instead, I’m a “packager of entertainment content.” I’m not fully there yet—with only several novels out in ebook and paperback—but my TV/movie option negotiations are back on, and I’m planning to eventually attack audio. IP is the name of the game in my Indie corner.

    (and I could care less about KKR’s political views; it’s the business meat I’m interested in chewing on)

  3. the book industry decided to pretend that nothing had happened in 2020—except an election here in the States and an insurrection in January of 2021.

    What is the evidence Jan 6 was not covered in their pretending?
    What is the evidence the election was not covered in their pretending.

    • Indeed, what is the evidence there was an insurrection? I have known people who have lived through insurrections and even taken part in them. (For instance, for some years my late father worked for a man who was involved in the Budapest rising of 1956, and had to flee the country with the Red Army on his heels. I knew him somewhat; he was an interesting fellow.) When attending an insurrection, one customarily brings whatever weapons one can, and uses them. An attempt to overthrow a government by force generally requires, you know, force. The comic-opera demonstration of January 6 was less like an insurrection than a number of ‘mostly peaceful’ attacks on police stations and other government buildings the prior year.

      The more effort Ms. Rusch puts into propagating the Democratic Party line, the less relevant her posts become to their ostensible topic.

      • It would be a pathetic insurrection that doesn’t bring along a few muskets or pitchforks. Or that does less public damage than “a mostly peaceful protest”.
        I suppose “riot” isn’t quite as fear-inducing.

  4. As a bookstore owner, I find the backlist a better place to invest my money than the new frontlist–which is the opposite of almost every other store I see. It’s partly because my downtown caters to tourists, who are looking for something unusual, but also because the backlist contains a huge number of proven stories, ones people have heard of and will buy.

    It seems to me that frontlist is a gamble every time; backlist is, over the course of time, a sure thing. Bookstore seem to invest most of their budget in new unproven books and neglect backlist, especially genre books.

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