We have two customers at Storybird. Buyers (families and friends who make or buy short visual stories) and sellers (narrative artists who supply the “visual” in “short visual stories”). This post examines the artistic, commercial, and marketing opportunities of the Storybird platform for the seller.
PS: You can jump over all the writing and get to the list.
We’ve learned from artists that one of their greatest challenges is creating a direct relationship with consumers.
The vast majority of illustrators, animators, or concept/comic artists (a group we shorthand as “narrative artists”) work through publishers or studios and don’t own the format, distribution, or marketing of a product. As a result, they rarely interact with mainstream consumers.
Some of this is changing thanks to the internet. By managing their own marketing and distribution, a growing number of artists are leapfrogging the middleman and creating a side-business selling printed goods or DVDs through a combination of blogs, Twitter, and markets like ETSY—increasing their reach, output and profit margins.
Their challenge, however, is that the current approach doesn’t scale smoothly. For instance, in order to sell art cards or PoD book, an artist has to a) create them, b) market them, and c) distribute them. Easy as ABC? If you’ve ever tried to do all three of those, month after month, you’d say “no.” Making, shipping, and promoting goods takes enormous effort and leaves little energy for the next project. (Which is why publishers and studios exist in the first place.)
Effort aside, the other hurdle is one of formats and platforms. If you compare the scenario above to a software developer who writes apps for the iPhone, their realities are quite different. For the developer, once the app is written it can be marketed, purchased, and used all on the same platform. That’s because Apple’s app store—like MP3′s + iTunes + iPods—combines the format, the market, and the player in one. Marketing, distribution, and consumption are synonymous (and often instantaneous).
The design of Storybird mimics this architecture. Like an MP3, it’s a format: we refer to it as a “short visual story,” but you could also call it “simple sequential media.” Like the iPod or iPhone, it’s a player: you use it to consume the format (in this case, whole stories or ingredient art). And it’s a market: it provides a platform for the trading and marketing of the art between the buyer and seller (and, in the process, aggregates and concentrates an audience).
This combination offers new advantages to the narrative artist while removing many of their current artistic or commercial barriers.
1. Publish, share, and sell stories instantly. Got a character that’s been buzzing in your brain? A story that won’t go away? The moment the ink is dry or the file is saved it can be circulating among your fans and creating new customers.
2. Publish, share, and sell art instantly. Create characters and scenarios that are designed to be remixed. Watch what rises and how people use them. Spin out new characters or build an entire cast around the stars.
3. Build evidence for mainstream distribution. Animators: treat Storybird pages like keyframes. Get your story into the market and build your audience. Pitch the studio with 20,000 fans behind you. Ditto for illustrators.
4. Connect and collaborate with your fans. Get immediate feedback on ideas and test new characters and scenarios. Run contests: a lucky winner gets to write the story that you illustrate. You judge stories that use your ingredient art (or your fans do).
5. Build the brand. Create whole stories and character art, art cards and posters, contests and collaborations. The only difference between you and Disney is that you won’t have to wear animal suits made of polyester.
This isn’t to say that Storybird replaces an artist’s reliance on other platforms (Twitter, Blogger, Flickr, ETSY, etc) or traditional middlemen (publishers, studios, distributors, etc). What it does is amplify the effectiveness of those channels and relationships, making it easier for artists to create, sell, and engage.
Sell the coffee AND the beans. Your publishing deal is for the book. That’s the coffee—the finished product. But why not sell the beans, too? Release some of the characters into the Storybird ecosystem and sell them as ingredients. Not only does it increase your revenue, but the fans who use the characters invariably find out about the retail book. In other words, using the beans for homemade coffee doesn’t replace the desire for store bought—it increases it.
Build a brand pyramid. Fashion houses are masters at brand pyramids and pricing: premium prices for haute couture, upmarket fees for boutique labels, and simple cuts and prices for Target. A Caldecott or Hugo-winning illustrator can build the same hierarchy, reserving prime illos for their premium publishers while creating “downmarket” characters or products for their Storybird shop. Product managers call this “channel management.” We call it savvy.
Engage, explore, and amplify. Singer Imogen Heap releases a regular podcast to showcase work in progress, but also to engage fans with contests and collaborations. Writer Jeff Jarvis blogged his way up to the release of What Would Google Do?, often testing his ideas post-by-post and refining his thoughts based on reader feedback. Storybird—linked with your other platforms and partnerships—lets you do the same: prototype ideas, reward fans, and build momentum towards your next project. It’s process AND product rolled into one.
By combining the format, the player, and the market in one system, our aim is to make Storybird an indespensible commercial and artistic tool for narrative artists.
The jist? We’re building something that we hope will make you want to play.