Old media strikes back

Neill Denny
Opinion - Digital 17 June 2016

Hachette's purchase of Neon Play puts down a marker for other publishers

Today we report that Hachette is buying one of the UK's leading games developers, Neon Play, which marks a bold attempt by a traditional print publisher to get firmly ahead of the curve on digital.

There has never been any reason why publishers should not have been more bold in addressing the digital revolution. Why not go on the front foot instead of passively waiting for it to happen to you?

By buying a creative digital company, one that makes content rather than delivery systems, Hachette is almost saying that creativity is creativity, whatever the medium.

Whether authors will want to put their characters into mobile games under the Hachette banner remains to be seen, but at least that option can now be offered. And with sixty million sold so far and counting, Neon Play can point to the undoubted popularity of what they are doing.

Tim Hely Hutchinson has thrown his weight behind this acquisition, the first of its kind by Hachette globally and the first of its kind by a British house. He, and two of his right-hand men, are joining the board of the Cirencester-based outfit, so this is no token acquisition. It is expected to make money and to make waves.

A glance at its website shows a very different corporate culture from book publishing: a stereotypical bunch of geeky young men in a massive office stuffed with technology and boys' toys - and not a book in sight. No chance of that being transported to Carmelite House, and that's no bad thing, for this is a complete break with the equally stereotypical world of publishing.

But will it work?  That will depend on two things. Can Hachette keep the creative talent locked in? Well, Neon Play's two founders are staying put, they have a stake in the business going forward, but can they keep their troops happy now they are working for a stuffy old publisher, as they will regard it. Remains to be seen.

And will authors want this option? My guess is some will, enough to make it worth a punt, but more importantly a marker has been put down. This shows the book trade can take its money and its authors and try to make things happen in other media.

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