Show me the money (first)

This blog post by John Bond was originally published on the FutureBook blog.

When we started our company two years ago, we were often asked why we were called whitefox. I mean, not a pun on books to be seen. The working title for the whole idea had been Maguire, after the 1996 Tom Cruise film Jerry Maguire. Specifically the scene at the beginning where the hard-headed commercial sports agent wakes up from a bad dream with a new business vision: one based on quality, not quantity, based on better, deeper personal relationships. He writes a mission statement in the middle of the night and calls it The Things We Think And Do Not Say and gets it copied up and given to every delegate at the conference he’s attending. He heralds the fact that he has “ lost the ability to bullshit”. He is, of course, promptly fired.

I loved that idea as the starting point for a new business. I loved the film, the script of which I defy anyone not to find some use in as a mantra for management in publishing (come on, how many times, publishing executive, have you wanted to lean over that desk two hours into an appraisal and say ‘ help me help you ‘). But my co-founding partners dismissed the idea of christening a start-up with anything so redolent of the 1990s and with even the slightest whiff of short Scientologists. So whitefox we duly became.

whitefox as a concept was about practical work that made a tangible difference, which could adapt to any environment and, if required, remain below the radar. A business that could blend into the background. It was always intended to be a symbol of trust and quality for our clients and suppliers. Our original assumption was that we would gradually be seen primarily as an opportunity for traditional publishers to outsource nitty gritty publishing expertise as the industry contracted and overheads lost the battle between fixed and variable costs.

That has happened. But simultaneously, even in the brief time we have been trading, new areas have opened up where publishing sensibilities are becoming increasingly relevant. No one seems to worry about using the ‘c’ word any more. Content is everywhere. Whilst trade publishers still see themselves as the arbiter of what should and should not be made public and endorsed, content owners and brands are choosing to look at their assets through the other end of the same telescope. And whitefox are helping them. Whether you are a newspaper or broadcaster, management consultants or breakfast cereal, brands are starting to use e-books for either marketing engagement or to create revenue streams through new channels.

The concept of brands becoming publishers, as Jens Bachem christened it at the Digital Minds Conference in 2103, isn’t new. Sales departments over the years have had custom publishing units, and rare is even the smallest chain of restaurants or cafes that don’t have a dedicated recipe book, often published on mainstream lists. But digital has opened up new opportunities for more DIY and cost-effective experimentation. And organisations are able to produce and share better quality, less ephemeral and more engaging material because companies like whitefox allow access to trusted publishing specialists. Our largely UK based network has started to play its part in what Mike Shatzkin over in New York has defined as the “atomisation” of publishing.

For some, this will all seem a rather alien concept. A distraction even. But in an uncertain world for some publishers, we would argue it represents a positive endorsement of having access to relevant, individual expertise, unbundled and available to anyone. So what if it is for content marketing. There is a commercial value in good writers, editors and designers.

The e-book explosion has seen traditional publishers look inwards first, obsess about understanding consumers of their books, differentiating themselves from their competitors and focus on digitising and selling their own copyrights as profitably as possible to offset any decline in physical sales. But there is a whole world out there. A world of words that can benefit from the skills that have long been traditionally associated with good publishing.

In the US, the successful self-publishing platform Blurb have just announced that nearly 40% of its revenues now come from businesses, who are using both illustrated and e-books, as marketing collateral or to commemorate events and anniversaries.

Its all just another way of being open to new opportunities. You had me at hello.

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