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Board Member’s Memo: Innovation and Independence in Book Publishing

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by Peter Trimarco, Co-Owner/Publisher, Notable Kids Publishing —

Peter Trimarco

Many independent publishers, and specifically author publishers, go independent because they have a strong vision and want full control over the editorial and design processes. This was how it was with me.

I established Notable Kids Publishing in 2016 to publish children’s picture and mid-grade books. I am also the co-writer and illustrator on several projects. I knew when starting the company that few agents or large publishers would consider our projects, as it is not kosher for the author and illustrator to be served on the same plate at the same feast. At the same time, I had already been publishing a very successful international film magazine for over a decade and had a long history in the music industry as an executive producer developing intellectual property, so I had the “indie thing” coursing through my veins.

When given the opportunity to get back to my artistic roots and illustrate a book, I dusted off the drafting table and assumed I would self-publish. Things grew quickly, however, and with a little help from my magazine friends, I soon had a traditional distributor and two more authors’ projects in the works—and Notable Kids was born. I must credit my magazine editor and business partner, Elliot Kotek, who provided much inspiration as he also penned the slogan for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “RISK INDEPENDENCE.” This seems a fitting statement to share with the book publishing industry I now find myself wonderfully immersed in.

Innovation and Advocacy

As independents, we need to innovate. As entrepreneurs, we are happy to take risks and think outside the box. When I was running an independent record label, which closely parallels independent book publishing, I experienced both dynamics up close.

Our record label worked with emerging and established artists. As true partners with these artists, we started addressing changes in delivery platforms that challenged intellectual property rights. In fact, our label was the first to launch a CD with copy-protection software. We were promptly sued by a team of media-hungry attorneys and made the front page of many business journals, while being featured on NPR, CNN, and through international print media such as the London Financial Times and The Washington Post. The class-action lawsuit was filed, as the plaintiff made the leap that music formatted on a CD should be considered software and, thus, all content should be downloadable without restrictions and available for unlimited use. This amounted to unlimited use of a digital master before new rules were established.

Certainly, such assumptions are also being seen today in our book publishing industry, as some continue to cross the line of fair use and challenge the rights of intellectual property ownership. “If you give a mouse a cookie …?” Our record label survived, and we garnered more positive media than the plaintiffs as the RIAA stood by our side. Most importantly, this helped bring the dialogue to the forefront. We see this today as membership organizations, such as our own IBPA, aggressively advocate for publishers as similar issues are challenged where digital platforms cross the line of fair use.

Lesson learned: Indies can make things happen. But don’t go at it alone.

Innovation and Child’s Play

Today at Notable Kids Publishing, we are innovating by bringing 3-D animation to some of our picture book projects and publishing a mid-grade book series in coordination with companion XR gaming apps. This started a few years ago while at an industry conference (and, yes, we attend conferences … you never know what you will learn or who you will meet).

While networking, we were approached by Playing Forward, based in Santa Monica, to be part of the development of AR apps that launch from the pages of children’s picture books. Playing Forward picked our It’s Just So series of books to launch alongside a title from Stan Lee’s Kids Universe and a proprietary title they already owned.

Through these properties, Playing Forward was interested in providing a unique AR app experience. Earlier versions of the apps for general audiences were created to bring children’s books with strong SEL attributes to the small screen and the thumbs of little ones. Playing Forward saw the inherent limitations of a child juggling a book between their toes while manipulating a mobile device and trying to eat a cookie left by a mouse, however, and focused instead on a companion app that pushed the interactive capabilities for entertainment and educational value.

Much like us, Playing Forward attends every conference and immerses itself in every conversation on the horizon and in the rear-view mirror. This led to our independently created and published 3-D characters being part of a phase two—being an innovative prototype exploring the movement and motor skills of children with cognitive disabilities. The 3-D modeling technology developed for phase two combined with the relatable qualities of our characters opened new doors. The technology allows the child’s movements to be monitored while they simulate the movement of our animated characters in real time.

And as for our book characters? Well, they are front-facing and help as both protagonists in storytelling and as avatars for children who need a little real-world help. As part of our publishing goals, we are creating a short film using AR 3-D animation with live action storytelling to promote the physical book series. In addition, we plan to activate targets on the printed book that launch app updates and educational games. We started with a traditional printed book, made it speak to an app, and it became part of a bigger vision.

Lessons learned: Network, be nimble, and innovate!

Innovation and Constituency

Certainly, Notable Kids Publishing’s exploration is evolving as we challenge the conventional approach. Authors are boldly doing this every day. As independent publishers, it is rewarding for us to champion innovation and out-of-the-box creativity and storytelling.

That said, it is not necessary to do this alone. When I was in the music industry, we did not have an organization of peers such as the IBPA to help us learn and achieve our goals. These days, I feel a greater sense of gratitude than ever. IBPA is our family and one of our greatest resources for education, networking, and advocacy. So, to my fellow brave hearts, who have passionately immersed themselves in independent publishing, be innovative and take risks, but don’t risk it alone. IBPA is right here.

Peter Trimarco is co-owner and publisher of Notable Kids Publishing. He has been in publishing for several decades as a news art director, editorial cartoonist, trade magazine publisher of Moving Pictures, aka Beyond Cinema, and was also co-owner, executive producer, and creative director of Fahrenheit/Finer Arts Records where they garnered multiple Independent Industry Awards in addition to two Grammy nominations. He currently serves on the IBPA Board of Directors.

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