"We did something ambitious, entirely new and hugely complicated": Orion on Belgravia

"We did something ambitious, entirely new and hugely complicated": Orion on Belgravia

Following our piece by Edwin Smith 'What Julian Fellowes' Belgravia should have learned from Netflix', Belgravia's UK publishers Orion contacted FutureBook to give their side of the story. As Marissa Hussey puts it: "Smith raises a pertinent question at a time when publishers are frequently accused of being complacent around innovation, especially the bigger houses. What constitutes a success?" 


We read with interest Edwin Smith’s article ('What Julian Fellowes' Belgravia should have learned from Netflix') published in The Bookseller and FutureBook a couple of weeks ago.

For anyone who hasn’t already heard about it, Belgravia is a story written by Julian Fellowes and published by the Orion Publishing Group over 10 weeks, which started in April of this year. This project meant Orion built a direct to consumer eCommerce system for digital content, built a delivery mechanism for the digital episodes of audio and text, and built a reader and audio player application that mimicked established ereaders and audio players on the market, while also introducing a handful of entirely new features. 

Smith raises a pertinent question at a time when publishers are frequently accused of being complacent around innovation, especially the bigger houses. What constitutes a success? 

In this case, not Twitter followers. Perhaps we shouldn’t be judging it either on the Belgravia Facebook community we have built –some 23,000 strong – or the huge number of email subscribers we now have, but for fans of historical fiction and Julian Fellowes – I’d argue these are places a clever marketer sows their seeds.

Admittedly, the sales are not yet at the level we’d see for the hardcover publication – which follows later this month – but there’s no doubt that we see this project as a success and worthy of celebration. We did something ambitious, entirely new and hugely complicated. It challenged virtually every aspect of how we work let alone how we marketed and sold it to the consumer. 

Hours were spent making the sort of decisions that have never crossed our desks before; collaborating in a way that isn’t typically asked for; learning about the finer details of tax in far flung territories or the patience of customer support and service; you name it and our small team did it. It’s been an exciting, stressful roller coaster of a journey.  This project will wash its face commercially, but Belgravia invested in internal infrastructure that allows us to do this again, and apply what we learned across the business to more projects like this going forward.

Do we really think this is the time for the final word on Belgravia? The Netflix I subscribed to in 2006 looks very different from the Netflix I subscribe to in 2016.  Will the next incarnation of Belgravia be better, or, just, different? Of course. That’s when it starts to get really interesting.

If you’d seen us the week we launched in April, crowded in a glass meeting room, hovered over laptops, our work table littered in things serving only to make us fat or caffeinated, you might not have recognised it as your average book publisher. The moment we went live, and saw our first sale come in, we threw fists in the air and our cries of relief filled the building. People shuffled over and watched through the glass, clapping and smiling, their faces genuinely supportive and happy: That is the best thing about Belgravia.

In the meantime, find out for yourself at www.julianfellowesbelgravia.com.