The Future of Storytelling?

transmedia-storytellingTransmedia Storytelling is a technique that utilises many digital platforms in order to tell a story which includes written word, film, games and social media. This technique encourages audience involvement and often uses the audience to drive the story forward with the idea that ‘mixing the power of video games and social media into a narrative allows for a transformed reading experience.’  The idea is to create stories that aren’t based on specific plots or characters but rather on complex fictional worlds.

Many recent transmedia marketing campaigns have been really successful, in particular the campaign for the blockbuster hit, The Dark Knight. They used posters to peak interest about the plot lines and also as competitions to unlock online previews and trailers. But can this be applied successfully to literary storytelling? Fantasy books often already use this kind of format for example, The Hobbit originally used maps and other texts which to provide details for elements of the primary text. With digital platforms this kind of content has become more advanced with interactive maps and online communities where people can share knowledge with other enthusiasts.

Digital publishing platform Pubsoft have recently announced a partnership with Transmedia Story Stream. A platform that helps authors create entirely immersive storytelling experiences within ebooks. The platform ‘allows storytellers to create story worlds that can include written word (READ), video (WATCH), audio (LISTEN), casual games (PLAY), and live events (GATHER).’ Heather Wied, Marketing Director for Pubsoft sees this platform being successful due to the ease of use across different platforms and believes incorporating story lines into casual gaming can help create immersive narratives:

“We’re excited to be a part of this project because we see the potential for growth. How many of us have played online social and casual games like Words With Friends or Candy Crush for hours without realizing it? What if games such as those were incorporated into some of our favorite story lines, like Twilight, and Harry Potter? What if participating in different activities provided different additional parts of the story that could only be unlocked by experiencing it in a different way? We don’t want to diminish the traditional narrative form so much as we want authors to have the ability to add to it.”

I think the idea of creating transmedia stories is really exciting but I believe the emphasis on casual gaming is (despite Wieds claim) diminishing the traditional narrative and rather than enhancing powerful narratives dilutes them into mindless gaming. For franchises like Harry Potter, The Hobbit and Twilight this kind of gaming might be interesting to audiences who know the story worlds so well already. However, I don’t believe it would work so well with new titles.

Julian McCrea recently released The Craftsman an immersive iPad thriller that follows you into the real world. You are a character in the drama who can ‘sign online petitions on fictitious websites and receive cryptic messages on your mobile phone from other characters, while the events you attend in the story pop up in your real-life calendar, as the app’s creators attempt to “bleed” the story into your everyday life.’ This is an example of transmedia storytelling that I think works really well, it gives the power to the reader and creates a world around the story, enhancing plot lines but also prompting the audience to pick the book back up and complete the story.

Digital Magazines – To app or not to app?

Future-NewsstandThere was big debate in the milk. magazine team when creating our digital mini-issue over whether we needed to include video and interactive content. We decided that the most exciting publication would be an interactive one with links to our website and video content. Many readers now expect more from their publication due to use of apps and increasing access to video content. Many publications now use a range of different platforms to provide their audiences with new content, one of which is tablet based apps.

However, not everyone is in favour of the magazine app. Jon Lund in GigaOM has recently declared tablet magazines a failure, he argues that “dedicated magazine apps for tablets may look good, but I fear they’re headed straight to oblivion.” He goes on to state that he believes new publications need to be presented “openly, socially, in flow — not in closed tablet apps.” I believe he is right, that new solely tablet based magazines are doomed but publications (whether it online or in print) with a decent following could certainly benefit by having an app or interactive digital magazine that provides exciting well crafted content in a dedicated space on tablets or phones, which are quickly becoming household appliances.

Mollie Makes is an example of a publication which uses various platforms to their advantage, with a beautiful print magazine, a great website, a regularly updated blog with tutorials, a great social media network  and also a well designed digital weekly magazine, Gathered which is available on the Apple Newsstand for download to iPhone or iPad. This magazine is a great example of how digital products can enhance print magazines and provide followers with more than can be offered with a print publication.

Lund argues that digital magazine apps lack connections to social media sites and the digital magazines are not meeting customers where they are. Sam Kirkland from responds to Lund’s argument and states “the strongest media brands can meet readers everywhere; they don’t have to choose between having a website and having an app.” This much is certainly true for a lot of publications, his example being The Atlantic who have introduced their app The Atlantic Weekly, which is a condensed version of the best news stories with added interactive content. The Atlantic and Mollie Makes are both examples of how publications with strong followings can use apps to their advantage, not to stand alone but to add something to their existing print publication. Both brands meet their followers wherever they want to find them, whether it be on the web, on social networking sites, in print, or through digital apps.

Hearst magazines UK used an in-app survey in digital editions of Harper’s Bazaar, Men’s Health, Red, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Esquire to question around 500 readers on their reading preferences for digital editions. The digital editions used were enhanced editions, re-designed for tablets and phones, rather than digital versions of print magazines created from their PDF files. Nearly half of those questioned (45.7%) claimed that they intend to buy a mixture of print and digital issues in future. This shows that readers want more than just a print publication and that they are interested in enhanced editions.

Here’s a great promo video Mollie Makes made for the release of Gathered:

Future Publishing – Work Experience

I have just completed a two week work experience placement at Future Publishing in the Bookazine department. It was a great opportunity and I will hopefully carry on working with them alongside my studies until I graduate.

My main focus was a marketing campaign for their new bookazine, Craft Beer: 365 of the World Best Beers. I was given the task to write cover letters and send out copies of the magazine to companies who have been particularly supportive of the issue. I also had to create asset files and send emails encouraging companies to promote us on their social networking sites. I was also given the task to create a buzz about the magazine on Twitter so I created a series of tweets to be released over the Christmas and New Year period on Tweetdeck. You can see them all on the Future Bookazine Twitter account. They have a relatively new Twitter account and I managed to double their following in my time there, and create lots of interest about the bookazine. I also did some branding on their Twitter account:


Other tasks included proofing flat plans and cutting flat plans for project china, which involved cutting down existing magazines to export them to countries with big expat communities. I was also given the task to write cover lines for a project china issue.

The Beauty of Print

With the print industry in a state of decline due to digital alternatives, the future of the book is a key question in the publishing world.

It’s clear that e-readers like Kindle and iPad are desperately trying to convince their readers that they are reading a real book that can be purchased and displayed on your bookshelf despite the fact that digital publications can offer more than the words on the page (or should I say screen!). Amazon claim that on their latest e-reader, “the pages are virtually indistinguishable from a physical book.” And the value of ‘the page turn effect’ was highlighted last month when Apple were awarded a patent for the feature. Book covers are still commissioned and sometimes specially designed for E-books despite the fact that they no longer hold their previous influence over the customer in search of their latest read. 

In a similar fashion to books, Vinyl is not as digitally advanced, (nor does it offer bonus features like music video) as digital downloads are, but it continues to be created and  coveted by people who love music and the physicality that Vinyl offers. Maybe the same thing is happening to printed books and magazines? There is an increasing amount of beautifully created books and magazines that I believe will always peak the interests of those that love them. Craft and individuality has become a more prominent feature of the internet with websites like and promoting limited edition and hand crafted products over mass produced high street items. Statistics on state that at the beginning of 2013 hardcover book sales were up by 10%, this shows the continuing interest in beautifully produced books.

A recent article in New York Magazine shows that “The idea of starting a (non-digital) magazine in this day and age seems downright insane. And yet, for those keeping score at the newsstand, dozens upon dozens of them have sprung up in the past few years.”  Magazines about niche topics, beautifully designed with a strong following of readers continue to be published and continue to be successful. The same can be said for books, a recent post on ‘awesomely designed books from 2013 that prove print isn’t dead‘ was a great overview of the beautiful books that are still being produced and admired. More and more books are offering something special like, letters, fold out sections and maps which make the reading experience more interactive. Although digital publications can offer us superior multi-media excitement they cannot offer the physical attributes that make books and magazines covetable and collectable. Reports show that E-books have not cracked 25% of the market and growth has dropped, it appears that print and digital may be able to coexist, each offering a different and equally valuable experience.

Social Media as a Literary Platform

Twitter-logo-300x299When I was first presented with the notion of using Social Media as a literary platform I have to admit that I was very sceptical as I have only ever used Twitter and Facebook for social use and more recently networking. Charlie Brooker recently named Twitter as his No.1 game of 2013 which is an interesting idea and is completely correct in my opinion. People spend a lot of time creating an online persona, trying to say witty things in 140 characters in order to gain as many favourites, retweets and follows. With this in mind I started to see how a literary text could develop over social media as it’s possible to use it to drive stories forward through interaction.

I had a look at Bite-Sized Dracula, which was a Twitter adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The most followed character was Mina Harker, her outspoken persona which is a modern interpretative version of her character in the book, managed to create a big following. However, many of her tweets have nothing to do with the story itself, she tweets as if she is a real person and reveals elements of her life outside of the novel. This causes a lot of what she writes to be humorous for example: “Look, I hate the smear campaign more than anyone, but if you’re going to write about my supposed love affair with Dracula, write it well.” It’s really entertaining but quickly becomes distant from the original text and rather becomes something almost separate. Whilst researching this topic I came across Building Storyworlds – the art, craft & biz of storytelling in 21c, which is an ongoing prototype and story R&D project created by Lance Weiler. He describes it as ‘an experiment in scarcity and abundance, each page of the book says “set this book free please retweet.”’ This introduces the idea of the audience being an integral element in the evolution of the story. Unfortunately in the case of Bite-Sized Dracula the audience interaction had positives as it often prompted good responses from the character but also had negatives as it sometimes interrupted the story completely and made it harder to follow what was happening.

I spent an afternoon with a group of 5 people creating our own Social Media adaptation of William Golding’s The Spire which was initally a daunting task but actually turned out to  be a really fun. It was hard to create something serious so we just went for a tongue in cheek modern version which got quite a lot of attention on Twitter. You can follow our progress with the hashtag #BSUSPIRE or take a look at it on Storify. From my experience and research into other literary Twitter adaptations of pre-existing literary texts, it seems that it can only successfully be used to create humourus extensions. However, it seems that if social media is used to create something original that is part of a transmedia story then it can be very successful in using the audience as a tool for extending the story to create something bigger than an existing text.

Mini-milk publication

I have recently developed a digital mini-magazine called mini-milk, for milk magazine. It is a newsletter type publication which has been posted to social media websites and will be sent round our mailing list. It is a purely digital publication intended to link back and peak interest for our magazine website. You can read about some of the issues I faced and the reason for the two different versions on my blog post: In search of an Interactive Digital Publishing Platform.

Below is the Issuu version which has a limited amount of multi-media interactivity as it does not support video content. Unfortunately I  was no able to embed the Joomag version but you may click this link to view the multi-media version of the mini-issue.

In search of an Interactive Digital Publishing Platform

Digital magazine distribution has been a key topic of conversation at milk magazine HQ in anticipation of the release of our new mini-issue: mini-milk. My idea for the mini-issue was for it to act as a marketing tool for our website and almost act like a newsletter to peak interest and link back to our website I wanted it to be interactive and exciting and therefore needed to find a digital publishing platform that allowed me to embed video and share on social networking sites.

We are currently using Issuu which was a great way to embed our print issue onto our website in order to showcase it but unfortunately they are still working on allowing embedding video. This was a shame as Issuu is very slick and easy to use, you simply load a PDF and Issuu creates a slick looking flip book of your magazine that you can embed into social media sites and simply flick through either in the post or enlarge it for a closer look.

Because we wanted video, we settled on using Joomag  which not only lets you upload your PDF it then lets you embed video in their online editor. This was a great feature although still felt rather clunky and the finish was nowhere near as slick as Issuu but the interactivity more than made up for this. The biggest problem with Joomag was that we had to pay a subscription in order for people to view it on mobile devices which includes iPad as well as phones etc. This was a great shame and actually prompted us to send out an Issuu version without the video just so that more people were able to view it as a great deal of people use social media on the move.

This exercise has highlighted the lack of easy to use, affordable digital publishing platforms that provide interactive features and also a slick finish. One platform I was particularly impressed by was the  Adobe digital publishing software which creates high quality magazines with a great deal of interactivity, as seen in the video below. Adobe gives designers lots of flexibility in adding interactive features when moving content from print to digital. But this, as you can imagine, is very expensive and smaller publications are unable to meet these kind of prices. Digital publishing gives us the chance to create exciting new multi-media publications therefore, software like this is invaluable to any publication but there is yet to be a piece of software that is as impressive as the Adobe software but also affordable for smaller publications. 

Ebooks in Transition – Enhanced Ebooks

The increased use of tablets and decline of print sales show that more and more people are reading digital versions of books. This allows the book industry an exciting new opportunity to create digitally enhanced versions of texts which can be educational and entertaining. However, for most publishers and in most cases, enhanced ebooks – with added features like video, audio, interactivity and more – haven’t really taken off and many have already claimed that enhanced ebooks are already dead.

But with the amount of recent successful enhanced ebooks, apps and games, there is clearly a call for something more than the current version of an ebook. Kate Pullinger thinks ebooks are “not a very good copy” of print books: a “transitional technology” that will be “more webby” in future. And with organisations springing up like  The Book App Alliance (a new association that seeks to educate parents and teachers about how to find and use quality digital book apps) helping to strengthen the quality of book apps and also promote the best of them, it seems that enhanced ebooks are far from dying. 

In 2009, Dan Franklin, digital publisher at Random House, produced The Death of Bunny Munro which was one of the first literary apps that featured videos of its author, Nick Cave, reading the novel. “Saying the enhanced ebook was dead was a little like saying that a child would never learn to walk because when it started to walk it fell over a few times,” Franklin says. The Death of Bunny Munro is an example of an app that works, basically an integrated ebook and audio book but it works, the text is not interrupted but it gives you something more. The Jack Kerouac On The Road app is another great example, the app offers the same kind of illuminations that melville house add to their print books but all the information is contained in a beautifully designed app.

“There are some things have been done that readers don’t want or need,” thinks Henry Volans, head of digital publishing at Faber, “but probably some of that is necessary for people to experiment.” He says it is “when something is too much a hybrid that people get confused”.  He uses the example of the failed enhanced version of John Buchan’s popular detective novel The 39 Steps. Having played this app I found that it turned a short, exciting novel into a mundane series of useless tasks that added nothing to the storyline but left me feeling bored. They failed to capture the excitement behind the original text and rather than adding to the story, they made it confusing and slow. However, Faber have also produced one of the best literary apps I have seen to date of T.S Eliot’s The Wasteland. The Wasteland app has been an outstanding success and it is clear why, the app provides annotated text, original manuscripts, audio recordings of Eliot and others reading the poem, performances and more. The enhanced ebook is far from dying, there are many exciting things to come but publishers need to understand what readers want from their text and produce exciting products that reflect this.

You can see the Guardian review for the The Wasteland app below:

Printing Lives On…Hybrid Books

With current reports showing that e-readers becoming more popular and e-book sales are on the rise, the future of printed books is in question. Stuart Applebaum, spokesman for Penguin Random House believes “print is here to stay” and I for one hope that he’s right.

After casually flipping through some books on the counter at my local book store Mr B’s, Bath I spotted something very exciting that offered me hope for the printed book! I flipped to the back page of one of the books and noticed a QR code printed on the inside cover. On closer inspection the book had been marketed as a hybrid book, a new idea from the Brooklyn based independent publisher Melville House.

hybrid book

For those reading who haven’t come across them yet, they allow the reader to scan the QR code via a smartphone or a tablet which then links the user to additional information about the text, the author, illustrations etc which Melville House refer to as “illuminations.” Seeing this got me very excited about the prospect of a blend between new technology and classic printing!

With the future of the book in question I believe we need to be finding ways to make multimedia products which still promote the printed book market but incorporate new technology in order to create a multidimensional exciting product. “The best publishers going into this transition are the ones that are not trying to change the experience, but are going to create new delivery systems that enhance the experience,” says publisher Dennis Johnson. Hybrid books may possibly be a solution to those who wish to advance with current technology but who still relish in the exercise of holding a printed book.