Brian Tibbetts

September 24, 2015

Permissionless Innovation


Publishing & Technology: Permissionless Innovation

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about wattpad, the concept of permissionless innovation, and the ongoing expansion of the world of fanfiction. I have been fascinated with the world of fanfiction for a couple of years now. But it was a recent post from Jane Tappuni on the Publishing Technology blog and her application of Benedict Evans’s logic regarding the concept of permissionless innovation to her analysis of the success of Kindle and Wattpad, and specifically the following comment that got me interested in writing about this topic this week. Tappuni says:

“Not only does the concept of ‘permissionless innovation’ explain the success of Kindle and Wattpad, it also explains why so many publishing-focused start-ups fail. While Wattpad has focused on being the network that hosts an entirely new form of content, many publishing start-ups instead want to take publishers’ content and put it on another platform. This makes them dependent on publishers who need to be convinced the start-up has the right business model, will take care of their content and will provide a financial return that’s comparable to a traditional retail sale before they hand over the right to sell their IP. Instead of innovating, they end up negotiating.”
Having dabbled a bit in “publishing-focused start-ups” myself, I can tell you, with great sincerity, that the reluctance of publishers to license content for innovative methods of delivery is a major barrier to entry, and hence to innovation in the publishing world. A certain amount of caution regarding the undercutting of their primary come-to-market strategy is understandable. But, the degree to which traditional publishers have generally blocked the use of their IP from anyone hoping to legitimately apply technological innovation to written IP has not only hampered innovation, it has limited their ability to take advantage of emerging technologies and the developers who need both IP and investment to get those technologies off the ground.

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1 Comment

  • Bryan Heathman says:

    I’ve got the viewpoint on the topic of licensing IP to start-ups, both as a publisher and from the perspective of a start-up. When I was in the start-up phase of my company, I was licensing IP from existing stakeholders. Fortunately my idea panned-out when Costco purchased the product line, thereby generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalty income for my stakeholders. Now as a publisher, sadly I admit that roughly 80% of the start-ups to whom I’ve licensed IP have not generated a dime in revenue. Therefore a significant bias in licensing IP to start-ups has been created, from publishers like myself investing time/resources on delivering content without generating an ROI. When start-ups come to us requesting content, it begs the question “Will this be yet another failed effort?”

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