On Wishing to be ‘Big’ in Publishing

By   Tim Inman 2 min read

Some of you may just be old enough to remember a film called Big starring a young Tom Hanks.

OK, not many of you, but bear with me.

Making a wish to be “big” one evening standing in front of a fortune telling arcade game, 12-year-old Josh Baskin wakes up the next morning to discover he has grown into a 30-year-old man. On the outside, anyway. Inside, he’s still a child who runs away to New York, ends up with a girlfriend and a dream job at a toy manufacturing company in their Marketing department. There he succeeds because he sees what the firm creates as a child, not as a cynical adult interpreting market data. And he also displays a childlike inability to say anything other than what he really thinks.

So what? Well, just as Josh can’t stop saying “I don’t get it” in the toy company’s marketing meetings, so at whitefox we find it harder than ever to resist the temptation to shout “I don’t get it” with the unveiling of every new publishing related tech start up that gets some funding.  We’ve done the meetings, good and bad, and we’ve gained some shareholders along the way over the last three years. We are not a tech player as such. If starting something from scratch has taught us anything, it is the constant need for collaboration amongst those with a similar mind-set.

This is about the head-scratching incredulity that happens in our office where we realise that yet more smart people have managed to convince ostensibly wise and wealthy individuals and institutions to back them to the tune of hundreds of thousands -on the basis of what looks to us a scalable hunch that something is going on in that fertile space around creating and selling content. And all the while, we keep coming across more good intentioned souls who have launched, are burning through cash and who would pivot (natch), if they only knew in which direction to turn.

When you stop working for a large corporate and start rubbing shoulders with entrepreneurs and VCs, talking about launching your own venture, part of you thinks how institutionalised your business brain must appear, how risk averse your attitude compared to the serial gamblers, because you have to be something of a driven maverick to make and lose millions. But you forget at your peril that in any sector, some experience and knowledge of what might stand a chance of working is at least useful.  Which is why we cheered when Dan Kieran from Unbound said last year in an interview “ Publishing is really hard…there isn’t a technical thing we’ve all forgotten.”

This week has proved that vision true in spades with the news of yet more casualties announced. Maybe it is true that the trick is, if you are going to fail, then fail quickly.

What happened to Josh? When he gets the chance, he makes another wish and turns back into his 12 year old body.  And witnessing the transformation, his girlfriend gives him one of the strangest looks you will ever see in the history of cinema.