TL; DR: Some things change, and some remain the same. Creators got its start in the pre-internet world of newspaper syndication, bringing work by some of the best writers and artists in the business to thousands of publications all over the world. Founder Rick Newcombe and his team have dedicated themselves to representing compelling and controversial voices that inspire public discourse and move society forward. Later, as the content marketplace began to change and the newspaper business began to wane, Creators took inspiration from the writers and artists it syndicated and built new ways to produce and distribute content with a distinct point of view. Today the company is not only a syndicator but an innovative consumer-facing book publisher, tapping into opportunities afforded by new technology to give new authors and creatives access to the audiences they need.
Since Rick Newcombe founded Creators in 1987, he and his team have worked with some of the best writers and artists in the content business. The company’s mission is to “find different, compelling, uncommon voices and share them with the world.”
That dedication to helping talent reach an audience has also helped the Creators team adapt and thrive. As the internet and digital publishing have expanded audience reach and the traditional newspaper business has struggled, Creators has remained strong by tapping into the creative spirit embodied in its traditions, taking a hard look at how the marketplace of ideas has changed and innovating fearlessly.
That pivot was sparked by Jack Newcombe joining Creators in 2009. After he became president and COO of the company in 2011, Creators blazed new trails for content production and distribution while preserving the appreciation for creative work that has fueled it since its inception.
“We’re always looking for new ways to do things to ensure that we can continue to move forward in the media world,” said Creators Managing Editor Simone Slykhous. “It’s our responsibility to keep up with trends while maintaining a link to our legacy.”
Where it once lived in the print-only world, Creators now earns almost all of its new sales in the digital space. And while it continues to reach large audiences with some the best syndicated talent in the business, it has put more focus into content licensing and has also diversified into book publishing.
What distinguishes Creators today from its pre-internet version — and from slow-to-change peers that have fallen by the wayside — is its dedication to finding new ways of doing business. But Creators doesn’t innovate for the sake of innovation. It does so to preserve the spirit in which the company was founded.
Creators Publishing: Innovations in Book Production and Distribution
The Creators team loves to come to work. They gather in a space in Hermosa Beach, California, that was once a church and then a car dealership. The company has invested a lot of resources to transform it into a haven for idea-making.
“We’re a small company with a family feel,” Simone said. “We like to foster an environment where we all feel comfortable expending our creativity. Having that baseline of trust allows us to move forward together.”
One of the most important moves forward has been into book publishing. The company has operated book subsidiaries since 2003, later refocusing that strategy to form a division called Creators Publishing. Since that shift, Creators has published more than 170 compilations and original manuscripts under three imprints.
“We’re always looking for new talent,” Simone said. “There’s truly outstanding writing in so many of the hundreds of submissions we receive. We like to work with people who have a point of view — apathy really doesn’t work in the world anymore!”
Most Creators publications — new work and collections of previously published columns — go out primarily as ebooks. The company publishes e-versions in multiple formats, distributing through Amazon, Google Play, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble. “We see the trends in the market,” Simone said. “E-books are generating more and more revenue year after year. These days, more people read on their iPads than visit libraries.”
Through e-books, people all over the world can enjoy the works Creators publishes. “Even when a book might seem more inclined for print,” Simone said, “like literary fiction and things like that, we build an e-version so people everywhere can enjoy it. We focus on that — and on ensuring our software is perfect.”
A still-significant market remains for printed books, however, and Creators fills it. Creators also uses new tech to maximize its print work.
“As a small company, we chose a print-on-demand solution to offer tangible copies to our readers who want them,” Simone said. Print-on-demand uses streamlined technology to produce high-quality books in much smaller print runs — even one copy at a time — than is feasible with conventional offset printing. Creators, therefore, operates with zero physical inventory.
Finding Distinctive New Voices While Pulling from Past Successes
Another growing medium for delivering book content is the audiobook. Creators works with Audible.com to distribute audio versions of many of its publications.
“We use a podcast studio in our office to record audiobooks,” Simone said. “And we’ve had great success with them — including our Horatio Alger books from our Sumner Books imprint.”
The Alger association illustrates another publishing strategy Creators has used: republication. Alger is so well-known and his message so ingrained in the collective consciousness that today he may seem more of a mythic figure than the top-selling Gilded Age author he was. His still-engaging stories portray the rags-to-riches journeys of poor boys who find success through hard work and determination.
“Alger charmingly tells the story of the American Dream,” Simone said. “Years ago, we recognized that the work was in the public domain. And kids today really don’t know his message of ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ well enough. There was a gap in the market, and the Alger audiobooks have been very successful for us.”
Audiobooks help Creators with current talent as well. From 2011 to 2015 humorist Alison Rosen appeared as the newsgirl on the Adam Carolla Show podcast. In 2012, she started her own popular podcast, Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend.
She also syndicated a column with Creators, and now the company is releasing a collection of her writing entitled Tropical Attire Encouraged (and Other Phrases That Scare Me).
“Alison’s innovative spirit and her ability to see trends that find new ways to market her work are inspiring to us,” Simone said. “And she has such a fun and relatable way of looking at the world. When you read her, you think, ‘Oh, yeah — how often should I be washing my jeans?'”
How Brands Work with Creators to Best Utilize Syndicated Content
Creators remains active on the syndication and licensing side of its business as well. “The media landscape is constantly changing, and our great sales force is always looking for new opportunities,” Simone said.
For example, enterprise media companies can work with Creators to ensure legacy content continues to find an audience from generation to generation.
“Digital publishing is infinitely scalable,” Simone said, “so there’s incentive for media brands to position content from their back catalogs in new venues.” Creators is also willing to propose novel ways to position content, such as finding a place for a popular horoscope on a channel offered by a digital television provider.
The team has also connected some of its comic strip artists and editorial cartoonists to greeting card companies, and licensed images from the ageless Andy Capp comic strip to the Hot Fries snack food brand.
“We build great relationships through brand licensing,” Simone said. “We’re here to cultivate and help spread the work our writers and artists produce to as many people as we can.”
Moving Publishing Forward by Focusing on What Works
Horatio Alger and Creators share a common storyline, which makes the company’s success in republishing the series that much more appropriate. Just as Alger wrote stories of poor boys improving their station in life through persistence and toil, it took hard work and determination for Creators to remain relevant as the newspaper world changed.
Creators remains one of the largest syndicate companies in the world, bringing hundreds of columnists and cartoonists to newspapers and digital publications every day.
On the publishing side, the company is building a path for new voices and forgotten ones to break through in a competitive market, Simone said. “We do specialize a bit. We understand the drive and the passion that is behind each of the submissions we consider, and we really want to make sure that the efforts we take will produce results.”
“It’s about practicality,” she said. “We want to find the best homes possible for the important creative work that is part of our common legacy, and for new work that will help shape our society in the years to come.”