I Take It Back: Atavist's Deal With Brightline Retroactively Justifies Its Platform Strategy

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on October 5, 2012

From The News Desk

Credit where it's due. Last month, I wrote a column titled "Platforms are for Pussies" in which I shook a disappointed head at media companies who have turned their backs on producing original content in favor of becoming investor-friendly "platforms".

One company I name-checked was Atavist, Evan Ratliff's long form journalism project that had increasingly started to promote itself as a platform for others to publish books. Specifically I said…

Platforms are like catnip to investors. Soon after the Atavist started talking its platform talk, the company scooped $1m in seed money from investors including Eric Schmidt of Google and Marc Andreessen, formerly of Netscape and now of, amongst other things, investing in PandoDaily...

Becoming a platform just feels so… well… grubby. It’s the rich man’s equivalent of a novelist going into PR because no-one will pay him to tell the truth. But then last week Atavist announced that they were partnering with Barry Diller and Scott Rudin to launch a new publishing house specializing in ebooks. Said the New York Times...

Instead of beginning from scratch, [Brightline's Frances] Coady said, the partnership will give Brightline access to the [Atavist] software, a place to market books in all forms and the design expertise of [Atavist's Jefferson] Rabb and others at Atavist. And Atavist will have access to big-name authors whom Ms. Coady and Mr. Rudin could bring to the table.
Now, if I were dick (heaven forfend) I could bold up the word software in that last paragraph and point out that Atavist's role in this new company appears to be far more technological than editorial. Indeed, Barry Diller, Scott Rudin, and Frances Coady hardly need to partner with an ebook publisher in order to commission great writers. And it remains to be seen how much editorial input Atavist's team get in a room filled with two of the loudest, and three of the smartest, voices in publishing.

And yet… There's no doubt Atavist has pulled off a real coup here. By promoting its platform offering so aggressively, the company was the first to spring to mind when Diller and Co. were searching for a partner. And now, albeit via an unexpected route, Atavist's platform will be at the heart of a ton of original Atavist-branded titles, coming soon to an ebook store near you. It would be fair to say I didn't foresee that outcome when I suggested becoming a platform inevitably meant fewer Atavist originals in future. And so this is one of those rare instances where I'm very happy to admit I was wrong. Kudos, Atavist, and congratulations to Ratliff and his team for pulling it off.

Now, as for Hamish's claim that the launch of Brightline makes Atavist a "a formidable force in digital publishing and a worthy alternative to Amazon". Well, I'll save that one for another time.