In the Upcoming Publishing Models session the panel discussed their own unique approaches to comic, magazine and educational publishing.
Publishing for a local community means “connecting the dots”
Alex Macleod opened up the session by describing The Grapevine, a bimonthly, entrepreneurially focused, free magazine which commits to “connecting the dots” in the highland community where it is currently only distributed. Alex sees The Grapevine as a vehicle for engaging with the local communities in a well-designed way.
So far there have been 6 issues of The Grapevine in the Highlands and Islands and new issues will begin to be distributed in Glasgow from April and in Edinburgh from August. Alex wants it to be “really accessible” which is why free works for them. He wanted to go for a “big splash” in getting high numbers in circulation for free while being funded by advertising that fits into The Grapevine‘s ethos. Alex said he’s trying to move to collaboratively branded content with the aim of having a free magazine that isn’t just a deluge of advertising.
A free platform was a “no-brainer”
John MacPherson’s latest project of pride is Bright Red’s Digital Zone. Set up two and a half years ago, it’s had over one million tests taken by school students over that time. The platform is free because it was a “no-brainer” – students wanted free content and teachers wanted free content. Although he was understandably “gutted” to hear that from a financial perspective he knew Bright Red had to answer to the market’s desires.
The concept of ‘free’ content brought Laura to raise the question of crowdfunding. Did any of the panelists engage with crowdfunding in their projects?
Sha said he doesn’t buy into crowdfunding as a publisher. He does support crowdfunding but he’d ultimately like people to buy the end product. And large companies doing crowdfunding? “You don’t need that, mate!”
Alex points out that there is a pressure to show content early in crowdfunding and this isn’t always a good thing. He’s stopped showing early copies of the Grapevine because they’ve come so far from then. Sha agreed – “If you have copies of my work from 5 years ago, burn them. Or I’ll buy them back from you.”
Be wary of what you’re spending money on digitally
In the vein of online publishing, Laura asked if they felt that digital magazine editions haven’t taken off in the way ebooks have. John believes Bright Red have married digital and physical books well but a specific focus on digital editions wouldn’t be worth the expense in educational publishing. Publishers need to be “wary of what you’re spending money on digitally”. He added that “research can be quite important as well”!
Publishing was driven by technological developments in the digital revolution but we need to stop and really think about what the market is instead of driving full force into the digital unknown just because that’s where the tide is going – knowledge is power!
The Grapevine has no digital presence as of yet; “it works in print, it wouldn’t work in digital but the ethos would”. For Alex, digital is an opportunity to gather content and a community efficiently. Freelancers or people with a story to tell that fits into their ethos, these are the people Alex is looking for. A lot like the Huffington Post format, but paid! Contributors get 50% of ad revenue.
Communities engage through events
At the mention of community Laura asked how events tie into their models. How did Glasgow’s Comic Con come about? Sha: “I was drunk one night…” (as all good stories begin) and the con was born. He was experimenting with making comics and engaging with pockets of comic fanbases in Glasgow and Dundee. Though very expensive to run, the first Glasgow Comic Con sold out and featured Mark Millar. Now with 4,500 attending and only 24% of the audience being from Glasgow, it shows there’s a wide community ready to engage with comics through events. “It’s become a beast…”
Alex has used events for communities and believes a good brand is built through events, not just from publishing a magazine. These things bring readers together without “selling, selling, selling”.
Wrapping up Laura asked what was next for our panelists. Sha in fact had a product out the very same day, Comic Invention, a box of comic treats covering the history of the world’s first comics and more. Sha will continue to put Scotland on the map as a place of graphic novels and comics.
For Bright Red, John says research and development is ongoing to bring their Digital Zone to the next stage “technologically expanding the back end and gamifying the front end for children”. It’s a challenge between technology and funding.
On top of The Grapevine‘s reach in the Highlands and Islands, Alex says it will have an increased 40,000 copies circulating in the central belt and, ideally, he wants to take The Grapevine outside of Scotland to a UK audience.
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