New chapter opens for online hits
Publishers turn to social media for what they hope will be bestsellers
Book deals once followed discussions between authors, agents and publishers, involving meetings punctuated by tobacco, strong coffee and the occasional affair. Future publishing contracts, however, could be sealed by unfeeling YouTube-watching robots.
Pan Macmillan, part of Macmillan, which signed Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling, will use TalentAI, a video-tracking platform powered by artificial intelligence, to try to find tomorrow’s talent on social media sites such as YouTube and Instagram.
TalentAI, which was created by the British company Instrumental, identifies “creators” with fastgrowing audiences and analyses the demographics of those audiences to predict commercial success. Shortlisted artists are assessed by human scouts before they are recommended.
The platform has been used previously in the music industry and discovered singer Calum Scott’s YouTube cover of Robyn’s Dancing on My Own. It was released through Instrumental’s own label and was the 12th biggest selling single by a British artist last year, reaching No 2 in the chart. Scott, 28, was then signed by Capitol records.
The technology also spotted country singer Catherine McGrath, 20, from Northern Ireland, who has been signed by Warner Bros.
Pan Macmillan hopes the technology, which is designed to spot the beginnings of exponential growth, can help it to sign social media stars in different categories to write lifestyle and young adult books while they are still “buzzy” — and relatively affordable. The algorithm also will identify trending content themes around which books could be developed.
From next month, Instrumental will provide the publisher with regular computer-generated reports on new talents and trends and it will meet executives periodically to recommend individuals. Pan Macmillan hopes to publish the first books by authors discovered this way next autumn. Books by social media stars are increasingly big business. Three years ago Girl Online, a novel by Zoe Sugg, 26, also known as Zoella, achieved the highest first-week sales for any debut author, selling more than 78,000 copies in seven days. Conrad Withey, chief executive of Instrumental, says: “We’re now working to predict the trajectory of social media stars so you don’t only see who’s going to be big but also how long their career’s going to last. There’s so much talent coming through on social media these days that you simply have to use big data and algorithms to find it.”
Pan Macmillan hopes that the technology can help it to sign social media stars
Zoe Sugg’s Girl
Online recorded highest firstweek sales for a debut author