At the end of January, Publishers Weekly ran a short overview of how some publishers are working with print-on-demand (POD) vendors like CaféPress, Zazzle, MashOn and Ty’s Toy Box. In it, Karen Raugust documented ways that publishers are partnering to let fans to create their own licensed designs.
There are usually limits, but acceptable user-generated design typically can be offered for sale. The licensor gets a royalty and the designer gets a commission. The practice generates more than royalties; a number of publishers noted that the POD orders are also supplemented with book purchases.
Daisuke Aoki, a vice president at a manga/anime publisher, viewed the fan-directed licensing scheme as a kind of market research:
We’re able to get direct feedback on what products fans want to see more of, what designs and characters do best, and more.
Still, this is a relatively new phenomenon. Raugust captured Ty Simpson, a vice president at CaféPress, noting, “Three years ago, licensors were very leery, but that’s changed a lot.”
One person who probably saw it coming is Valla Vakili, founder of Small Demons. He has been talking about the appeal of cosplay and the significance of worlds drawn from literature for some time. As he noted in his contribution to Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto:
What if you took this all seriously: that characters live beyond the page; that settings are worlds worth exploring; that spells can break through from one medium to another. Welcome to the Storyverse.
One of the questions I get asked periodically (and on Monday) is how “community” applies to novels. Maybe this is a path: let the fans in.