(Editor’s Note – The opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author. Any questions/comments should be directed to its author, Josh Selig, and not KidScreen.com/KidScreen Magazine.)
I cannot tell a lie, I’m exhausted. I haven’t had a proper weekend in months and this weekend will be no different. I wish I could say the culprit was MIPCOM, but that was just the icing on the cake. Being an independent producer, regardless of your size, your track record, or the country you live in, is exhausting. Right, Kiko? Right, Colin?
There’s really no way around it. Either you’re hustling to finish up whatever show you’re making or you’re hustling to sell your next show. Typically you’re doing both, all the while nursing along your fragile connections to the various broadcasters who, these days, seem just as exhausted as the indies and, with three notable exceptions, face the same challenges when it comes to financing their new shows.
So, we’re all in the same boat. Except perhaps for the book publishers who have a whole set of problems all their own. Last week a big app developer told me, “The problem with traditional publishing is that it’s really a licensing business, but the rights that they license no longer have much value.” Then, the next day, someone else told me, “The publishers will soon buy up the app developers and then they’ll make apps based on their own book titles.”
The problem with that theory is the smarter app makers are already buying up the digital rights to all the best books at bargain basement prices because the traditional publishers never saw much value in them. I think it’s more likely that the app developers will one day be buying the traditional publishers, also at bargain basement prices.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but twice today when Mary and I were out shopping we saw books on display but they weren’t in bookstores and they weren’t intended to be read at all. At J Crew, books were being used as the backdrop for a pair of women’s shoes. And at The Museum Store, books had been turned into odd, literary birdhouses. As a person who still loves to read actual books, both made me sad. I fear that books will soon become cheap lumber.
When it comes to rights, you have to admit that it’s the big global broadcasters who have been the smartest of all. They just take them all without any apologies and are very sophisticated about how to best exploit them. I’m not saying I necessarily like this approach, but I do see why it makes perfect sense. It has always puzzled me that publishers were so very generous in their deal making. (“No, please, we just want to publish the book itself, you keep everything else, we insist.”) I suspect they are now seeing the downside of this kinder and gentler approach.
There aren’t many bright spots for indies these days either but there are a few. For example, there are more preschool channels than ever before, and not even the biggest broadcasters can afford to finance and own all of the shows on all of their channels. This creates an opportunity for clever indies to sneak onto those channels in the few acquisition slots they have left and, hopefully, build ourselves a little home and a nice audience. Though raising money to finance these kinds of shows remains a challenge, I find that with hard work it’s still possible.
I’m probably out of my depth here and I always remind myself that just because I know how to make preschool shows, this doesn’t mean I actually understand the industry that I make preschool shows for. But I do believe in my heart that new IP, whether in book form, show form, or app form, will always have value because this is what the consumer, at the end of the day, wants: something new.
But, unlike many of the TV folks I know, I won’t be making my own apps or games anytime soon. I saw all the dot com companies come and go in our old building in Tribeca in the early 2000′s. I recall them telling me I was a dinosaur for staying in TV back then. Today I see a similar bubble starting to rise, with everyone chasing the success of “Angry Birds” and believing that their new app will be the next magic bullet. I suspect that 90% of the new companies getting into casual gaming will be gone in two years when this bubble (also) bursts. There’s only so much room for new product and the big winners here will be the folks who really know and love gaming. The other winners will be the big broadcasters who will continue to migrate their trusted brands and shows to the web, the iPad, Android and every other platform that has been, or will ever be, developed.
So, instead of making games or apps, I will continue to make characters and stories that I think preschoolers will fall in love with. Then I’ll work with whomever I need to in order to get these to the kids. In the past that has mostly been broadcasters, but these days we’re just as likely to pitch to a gaming company, an e-book publisher, a toy company, a TV manufacturer or even a phone company.
And, just like the broadcasters, these folks need original IP. They need someone to pitch them new ideas. Because, like the broadcasters, they tend not to be very good at coming up with cute little characters and good storylines of their own. And that’s where you and I come in.
The indies. Exhausted. Proud. And indispensable.