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: