Crowd Sourced Franchise

I am a big fan of Franchise Fiction: Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate et al.  As a writers, I've dreamed about starting and running my own.  That is the financial goal of most creative folk: continuing characters and setting you love and an exploration of an idea to its fullest with a committed fan audience who really want to participate in the project.

If that is the dream, how can I (or any writer) make it into a reality?

Learning from the past

Franchises are accidents...

Damn!  With the exception of Babylon 5, I cannot think of a planned franchise that succeeded, and even Babylon 5 survived on a healthy dose of luck.

I wish I could pin point a formula to share (and follow), but there really doesn't seem to be one.  But I think that is a big part of the problem.  It puts the cart before the horse.  There is one really important question we have to ask before we can move forward:

How to define Success?

Franchises fall and collapse into themselves like dying stars long before anyone every gets to see them.  Most, especially the ones produced for film and television, suffer under the weight of unrealistic expectations.

When I say I want to have a successful franchise/series, I mean:

  1. I want it to support me
  1. I want to enjoy working in it
  1. I want readers/viewers to enjoy it
  1. I want readers/viewers to participate in it

It does not have to:

  • Make me rich
  • Be a bestseller
  • Be bigger/more popular than Series X
  • Please everyone

Realistic or Delusion?

That is the real question isn't it.  By now we have all heard the argument:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans (Kevin Kelly).

Is that doable?  Yes, but there is one giant flaw with the model:

Producing Enough Purchasable Content

At dashPunk, we rely on advertising, affiliate links, donations and sales of my books to pay to keep the lights on.  I look at it this way:

  • Ads cover the cost of lurkers and folk who are too cash strapped to pay to products
  • Affiliate links bring in people who like the same things we do
  • My books sell to people who love my fiction
  • Donations are for the kindhearted folk who want to support the work we are doing

We don't rely on any one solution, but if I want to have a successful franchise, I have to produce enough content to support the salary I want to have.

I talk to a lot of writers who seem to think that making money is a form of magic.  They will sign a mystical contract, send their work out into the ether and have paychecks come in.  They get really frustrated when they learn the truth.

The problem is, I think a lot of media companies have the same idea.  They produced the show/movie/book/game and the money should magically appear.  It may have worked like that once upon a time, but those days are dead and gone.

Content creators need to learn how to be fans of their own work and involve their fans in their projects.

To Crowd Source?

This the beauty of the Creative Commons license to me.  I want my fans to know they have the right to play in my settings and with my characters, but there needs to be an easy way to bring fanac into canon.

I've been working on a new setting for some time now, and I plan to build a site for it and involve my readers in the process.  I am not sure exactly how I am going to do this, but I would love your input.  Comments and ratings will be a part of it, but I am not sure if that should be all.  I want more interaction.

If we creatives are going to have a future, we have to learn how to move forward with our projects in a way that will involve or fans.  We go forward in community, or not at all.

Micro-Magazines: Future or Fad of Media

An on-demand book printer at the Internet Arch... Image via Wikipedia

Seth Godin (among others) proposes that Micro-magazines are the Future of Media.  He defines a Micro-magazine as:

  • Being digital (probably a PDF), that's free to 'print', fast to make and easy to share. (Newsweek spends seventeen million dollars a year on paper.)
  • Having subscribers, either by email or RSS
  • Focused on issues that appeal to some, but not all
  • Having a very specific audience (call it a tribe)
  • Enabling that tribe to connect by sharing the ideas in the magazine among them, as well as supporting it with a forum or blog
  • Containing ads that are relevant to that audience
  • Being longer than 140 characters or even a blog post, so significant ideas can be exposed in detail (Seth Godin)

This is not a new idea, it is an old one. So let's start by calling them what they are.  Every time I see the word Micro-Magazine I really want to say Micromachines and John Moschitta, Jr.  I feel like I need to start talking as fast as I possibly can.  What we are really talking about are Zines: Extremely focused magazines made by people you have a strong interest in the subject for people with a strong interest in the subject.

I know some people won't like my use of Zine here.  To them, they think of poorly photocopied, saddle-stitched pamphlets someone cooked up in their mother's basement.  I think of the periodicals I always loved to read, and looked forward to more than any other.  To each their own, but we cannot have this discussion unless we are honest with ourselves.  What we are really talking about is the professionalizing of Zine publication.  Low cost, quality content for a focused audience.

That said, let's look at each of Seth's points individually:

Being digital

Agreed.  Future of media is digital publishing.

File Format

I call upon all Gods and Devils to prevent the PDF from being the format of the future!

The format of the future is going to be variable.  It needs to be available on the web, as a download, as an app for our favorite mobile device, and print on demand.  It needs to be available in every format a reader may want to read it in.  Conversly, there needs to be a singular tool for the publisher to post once and have the content appear every where.


The format need to be easy to share.  One button click to all our favorite networks, to email, and to print.  How ever the reader wants to share it, out it goes.


Why do podcasts work?  1 click subscriptions.

The platform will need to have the ability to allow the reader to subscribe in the manner of their choosing in one click and to have the content auto-delivered.  Email and RSS already exist, it is possible though not easy to make a mobile app, but it also needs to be added automatically to our Kindles, iBook shelf, or to be mailed via a print on demand.  Options are the solution.

Focused Content

The content needs to be focused.  That is why we offer the new minisites on dashPunk so people who are only interested in a particular subject can find that content easier.

The days of Mass Media are for the most part over.  The long term future in in producing content that will appeal to a niche audience and evangelizing for the importance of niche to bring more people in.

A Tribe of its own

Some topics appeal to a lot of people, others don't.  The trick is to find a way to get your tribe to support the Zine no matter the size.

It is also important to let your tribe talk to itself.  The more people involved the stronger the Zine will be for it.


Awwwww, I said a dirty word.

I would really like to be a utopian, but everything costs money, and thus has to make money to succeed.  It is a hard truth to face, but that's the deal.  If I want to give my content away for free, I have to sell ads to cover the cost, and hope that my readers will support my sponsors and affiliates, shop in my Amazon Stores, and buy my books.

I know that this is a great place to link out to these thinks, but I feel like that would violate my contract with my readers.  I am not posting to advertise the ways I make money, but to share thoughts I find interesting.  I know I can tell went someone is pushing a sale and I think you all can to.  That is a lesson I think more writers need to learn.

Content Collection and Exploring Ideas

This is the Holy Grail.

  • The Problem: (Content) longer than 140 characters or even a blog post, so significant ideas can be exposed in detail
  • The Solution: The Link.

Hypertext does this really well.  The MMO Aoin does this very well in that all Mission text is linked to dictionary articles, which link to the game's UI.  I never leave the game to find out more information.  I can easily surface this information if I want to, but it doesn't clutter the game if I am not interested.

Google Living Stories is an interesting model for this, but it is not polished enough to be useful yet, but it is movement in the right direction.

Scribd has also delivers some of these features, but in isolation of any of the other content.

My Dream WordPress Project

Everyone has their favorite Open Source project.  Mine is WordPress.  I would love to see a BuddyPress scale open source project to bring these features into WordPress in a way that is simple and easy to use.  If there are any developers out there interested in starting this project.  I will set up a site and start gathering resources for it.

We can build a better media for the future, we just need to put our heads together and make it happen.

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