On Sept. 13, 2015, Ingram Content Group will unveil the results of 1440, a new incubator for publishing entrepreneurs. The project’s website connects a past publishing revolution with the type of disruption Ingram hopes to help start in the future: “In [the year] 1440, Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press and changed the world. We’re looking for the companies that are changing today’s publishing world by changing the way that people interact with content.”
Today, Ingram is busy reviewing the 33 applications it received on or before Aug. 7 and will be ready to announce the participating companies on Sept. 13 (perhaps coincidentally, this is the birthday of several publishing tycoons, including Arthur George Weidenfeld of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, who will turn 96). Participants will receive a $30,000 investment from Ingram, as well as coaching and business introductions, during a 14-week period. David Roland, the company’s chief venture capital officer, says there will ultimately be five to seven applicants selected from the 33. That puts the projected acceptance rate at about 18%.
1440 is a team effort among Ingram, Jumpstart Foundry (JSF), and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (EC). JSF “is a healthcare-focused mentor-driven accelerator” also based in Nashville, Tenn. The EC and JSF are both economic accelerators providing mentoring, investments, and collaboration spaces for startups—it’s apparently not your grandma’s Chamber of Commerce. As it happens, JSF offers a 14-week mentorship period too; this may imply that much of Ingram’s 1440 action will actually happen at these companies’ locations in Nashville. JSF and the EC share space with other accelerators there on the corner of Lea Avenue and Peabody Street.
Seeking ‘Blue Oceans’
But what will the winning projects be expected to do, and what kind of relationship will they be expected to maintain with Ingram? Roland says, “We expect them to come out as viable businesses and hope to have a business relationship with them. However it could be that we may or may not have a relationship with them other than being an investor.” As an investor only, Ingram still gets an opportunity to see a new publishing-related company (or a new type of publishing company) succeed, grow, and, it may hope, earn profits in which Ingram could share. But in wanting viable business partners from new types of publishing, Ingram also seems to be looking for ways to foster “blue oceans”—Kim and Mauborgne’s notion of creating new fields with which to dominate uncontested space rather than compete for business among existing competitors. Amazon’s Kindle, although not the first or necessarily the best e-reader, is an example of this idea at work in publishing.
Now may be the moment for “acceleration” by way of a corporatized, kick-started model. With the examples of Lawrence Lessig’s 2016 presidential campaign kickoff ($1 million by Labor Day, or no mandate to run) and Amanda Palmer’s articulation of the art of asking, crowdfunding has shown itself to be an increasingly common way to accomplish something. Ingram is a business with a profit motive, and its version of this ethos takes a different shape from the concept of microlending or Indiegogo, but the folks working on 1440 are likely to have noticed the 600-plus live publishing projects on Kickstarter at the moment. With plenty of fresh ideas there and plenty of blue oceans to trawl, it makes sense to raise, fund, and groom your own innovators.
Online vs. Face-to-Face
But why bring startups into a physical workspace for weeks at a time, rather than push a (much cheaper) online version with asynchronous and virtual collaboration? Ingram could save money and hassle by using some existing learning management software to connect startups with their coaches. There is at least anecdotal evidence, however, that real-time, face-to-face learning opportunities are more valuable than solely online collaborations. Consider the case of Iron Yard, which has 17 locations across the lower 48 states (including a Nashville branch), and San Antonio’s Codeup. These are for-profit code schools that make use of a “come together to collaborate” model, and they clearly have impacts on the economy. Codeup, for example, claims an average increase in salary of $13,000 after completing its curriculum. It’s hard to imagine such a pay raise after completing a course on Udemy or lynda.com. But according to their graduates, such programs are also qualitatively different, and one of the most important changes is sitting in rooms with people of similar interests and working together (again, anecdotal, but discussions such as this one are telling). Those eye-to-eye moments are what lead to inventions, collaborations, jobs, promotions, and other new opportunities.
Apparently, 1440 is intended to make use of such real human-to-human networks and bring them together in Nashville to feed off of each other’s creative energies. Although the resulting products of the participant companies could be completely virtual and online, they will benefit (accelerate?) from analog interactions over coffee down by the Cumberland River.
All of this may be a great opportunity for the startups involved, but Ingram gets something out of it too. This “open call for ideas” may “range from improving customer experience to bringing books to new markets to helping publishers establish stronger relationships with end customers.” The ability to promote books and improve relationships between readers and publishers will be good for Ingram. There are still blue oceans to be discovered in publishing.