Posted on July 5, 2013 in Archive

What digital risks are the big publishers taking?


Black Crown, the love child of Random House and Failbetter Games, is a great example of how publishers are experimenting with what digital has to offer.

The online narrative game is based on a non-linear story by debut author, Rob Sherman, who pitched his idea to Random House by showing up at the office with a suitcase full of random objects.

The idea behind the story came from Sherman’s final project for his Creative Writing degree where he was presented with a suitcase of seemingly unrelated items and asked to creative a narrative.

Black Crown, which uses Failbetter Games’ StoryNexus platform, combines interactive fiction and science fiction with a mysterious choose-your-own-adventure style.

Black Crown logo

Black Crown – an innovative digital publishing project


While the main story is free-to-play, players can accelerate the narrative by making small payments.

Random House saw this option as the best way to achieve Sherman’s vision for the narrative and digital publisher, Dan Franklin said they hope the game will appeal to a progressive audience.

Culturally curious, web-savvy, those who understand the digital publishing space, read digitally, and want to go further.

It’s promising to see publishers finally acknowledging and catering to this portion of the audience.

It’s also exciting to see them taking risks, but it’s important they don’t get distracted by all of the fancy features digital publishing has to offer.

With the industry in such a state of flux, uncertainty is inevitable and risks are necessary.

However, content still needs to come first – calibre before curios.

It will be interesting to see how Black Crown goes over the next few months and whether or not the recently amalgamated Penguin Random House is prepared to continue taking these kinds of chances on digital publishing.

With the merger finalised, some people are questioning the future and direction of the publishing behemoth.

There has been a lot of discussion about the infrastructure of the company, in particular the new global leadership team and other staffing changes, but there has been less talk about business strategies.

Even the one and only press release issued by the company since the amalgamation, which was released by CEO Markus Dohle, is more concerned with detailing the status of trade in different countries than presenting a vision for the future.

Is this a sign that Penguin Random House is getting complacent now that they’re the largest publisher in the world?

Will they be satisfied to simply rest on their laurels rather than use their power to expand the boundaries of the digital publishing landscape?

Some people are suggesting that the kind of publishing risks I’m hoping for might be better achieved by an experimental subsidiary of the publishing giant, called Random Penguin.

This playful new brand would nibble at the edges of tradition and normality, and would of course, have a much more entertaining logo than the temporary one Penguin Random House have come up with.



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