I have been imagining “verticals” for more than ten years. My BEA speech earlier this year postulated that publishing power would shift from controlling “IP” to controlling “eyeballs.”
Lots of publishers have complimented me on my insights and have told me “we’re thinking along the same lines.” But what I see are mostly product catalogs organized vertically. Or some other variation of “we provide the content, you provide the audience.” That’s a start, but it isn’t a vertical that will lead to control of eyeballs.
Sourcebooks has already made the major breakthrough of creating poetry bestsellers (are they the first since Rod McKuen 30 or 40 years ago?) They did it by adding CDs with sound to the printed word and they did it with a printed book, not an online combination. So they already have demonstrated a commercial sense for the poetry market that is unique.
But PoetrySpeaks gets past the product and goes to the heart of community: they provide service. They give every poet a reason to come to them and use them. They provide tools to post poetry, critique poetry, share poetry, speak poetry, and sell poetry. They thought through the business models so that other poetry publishers can play and make money, and you can bet that, later if not sooner or immediately, they all will.
They’ve thought it through from the perspective of many stakeholders: poets, of course; but also poetry publishers, poetry professors, poetry fans, poetry devotees. Another way of saying “vortal” is “all things…” and PoetrySpeaks is on its way to being “all things Poetry.”
The revenue models, to start, all are based on selling poetry content and tickets to slams, readings, and online performances. That’s fine. But I’ll bet that within two years there’s another one: selling memberships to a premium level of access to other poets, teachers, critics, and workshops (a la the model of PublishersMarketplace.) And I’ll bet there will be databases of people and poetry and tools and ideas that will have been crowd-sourced, have extraordinary value, and effectively head off anybody else from competing for what it will have become. (As Publishers Marketplace has done.)
PoetrySpeaks is a vertical site that doesn’t lean on trying to sell you something; it presents itself as a service to the community. Hats off to a publisher that is still selling books by the boatload, even poetry books, but that also recognizes that future success requires an entirely different model.
Yes, there are thing missing. I didn’t see a blogroll (although there is a blog) and the site doesn’t appear to acknowledge whatever other poetry activity now exists on the web. I’m sure eventually it will. There’s room for a history of poetry, and a bunch of poetry bookshelves. They need more content about poetry. If there’s an FAQ there that explains iambic pentameter, I missed it. But their community will create these things over time. PoetrySpeaks has the bait that will make it “the online place the poets hang out.” All else will follow.
One observation by Michael Cader in his write-up on this that I want to echo and stress. He observes that you do not have to be a market leader in a vertical to take a leadership position. Undoubtedly, there are many publishers who, despite Sourcebooks’s poetry bestsellers consider themselves to be much more committed to poetry publishing than Sourcebooks has been. But anybody committed to poetry publishing will be saying one thing to Sourcebooks: thank you very much.
Dominique showed PoetrySpeaks to me and to Guy Gonzalez of F+W at the Frankfurt Book Fair under a strict NDA. We were sworn to secrecy and revealed nothing, but persuaded our colleagues to carve out a feature spot for Dominique to deliver our audience an update on this project as part of our first morning session on January 26. One more reason to sign up for Digital Book World.