Transmedia storytelling and publishing

Publishers have for  long  announced dwindling revenue for their print products such as books and magazines, laying the blame squarely on the Web and new technology. It’s a tune we know all too well.

For some, they have adapted and given way to the e-book as a format to extend their content on a different platform reaching new audiences at the same time. “In 2012, the Ontario Media Development Corporation estimated 15 percent of book sales in Canada were in digital formats, a number expected to at least double by 2018,” it was reported in the Metro (p 16).

Several publishers, as we know, have folded, not seeing any other means of overcoming the knock they have suffered. Others have dusted off their traditional business models and made way for a fresh perspective, incorporating and even embracing the new opportunities of the electronic age.

There is hope.

In fact, there is opportunity, and this opportunity is presented through transmedia storytelling.

Transmedia storytelling as a movement has been around since the early 1960s, and in some cases 1920s.

Science Fiction, has probably been the most prevalent genre adopting transmedia methods between the publisher, author, book and its readers, with blockbusters such as The Matrix being a notable example of transmedia storytelling in the Science Fiction genre.

What is transmedia?

Essentially, transmedia is a new form of storytelling. For the purposes of this paper, I shall be referring to it as transmedia storytelling, which comprises telling independent yet connected stories across multiple media platforms as a collective experience of the narrative. By doing so, this method of storytelling explores new creative possibilities that opens up new revenue streams for publishers and promotes brand loyalty and audience engagement.

Until recently, the concept of transmedia storytelling has been associated with Henry Jenkins through his book, Convergence Culture, whereby he describes transmedia storytelling as a process whereby important parts of a story, fiction or non-fiction, gets dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. “Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story,” says Jenkins, who speaks of today’s culture, and the future, as an era where spectatory culture is being replaced by participatory culture.

For publishers, transmedia should be a shifting and evolving definition. They cannot work with a fixed notion of what transmedia storytelling means, because they would only limit themselves to the possibilities of what they can do with their brands and products across several platforms.

Transmedia storytelling and publishing should be one connected idea. One should not be able to speak of one without the other. Publishers should no longer have to think of just printing a book, or converting it to an e-pub format, but they should keep in mind the non-conventional extensions of the book/magazine as a whole. Particularly, when it comes to capturing their audience’s attention, and involving them in the storytelling process through other platforms such as digi-novels, games, and even apps.

Transmedia as convergence

“Storytelling is going through and evolution. The impact of new technologies combined with audience that has more control over its media is challenging from revenue models to authorship”, according Lance Weiler, a story architect and co-founder of Transmedia Next.

A distinctive factor about transmedia is that “all plot lines and media presentations are designed to flow within a single, integrated story world, often with an emphasis on audience participation across platforms.” In the case of Conspiracy for Good (2010), audience participation plays a crucial role to the unfolding of the storyline fictionally and in reality. This is a good example to disprove critics who are of the opinion that transmedia might bring about greater apathy among digital audiences who might be too immersed in the content across several platforms.

Instead, the infiltration of transmedia storytelling through popular culture, and its permanence as well as flexibility in culture, showcases the difficulty researchers have had attempting to pin down an exact hypothesis or concept of the transmedia narrative experience.

Transmedia storytelling is also known as pervasive storytelling or persistent narrative that lends the idea that a narrative is no longer confined to a single book, or screen. Other ideas of transmedia is that it is a marketing tool, a means of engaging and enticing new audiences to buy your product, or become loyal members to your brand. Other purposes of transmedia storytelling is accessing alternative revenue streams for new business models, and thereby creating new value through stories and their experiences.

Transmedia and fandom

Fandom, would mean the joining of the two words, fan to denote a follower, or admirer of a celebrity, brand or product, and dom would be derived from kingdom, to illustrate a container or gathering of a community of people with similar interests. Fandom would therefore imply some sort of cult. A fandom would in this instance, interact and participate in creative works and discussions surrounding these works, online and off-line.

Transmedia, as this paper will explain, is a narrative and social practice emerging as an integral part of popular culture as we know it today.

Looking at historical examples, this paper will maintain that the term transmedia itself renders an evolutionary process whereby publishers should create innovative means of creating, marketing, and distributing their brands (and products, ie. books and magazines) in such a way that continues to challenge the expectations of traditional media making and its audiences across these platforms.

Books as an old-age product, can be incorporated into a strategy and architecture that raises curiosity among audiences to click, scroll, and connect with other devices and platforms (even embedded within the book itself) warranting the longevity and relevance of the book in print.

Penguin Book’s Dutton Publishing has been on the forefront of the transmedia storytelling, publishing the digital first novel, Level 26.

Transmedia as an evolving definition also brings publishers to incorporate their audiences in the storytelling process whereby a participatory practice is exercised. Readers not only become reviewers, but also extended creators of content (prose/poetry/music/film/games) that extends the narrative of the book/magazine. Here are a few case studies for demonstration and impact.

In my opinion, Transmedia storytelling in publishing is a slow starter. Many first have to evaluate or observe whether other publishers have incorporated transmedia storytelling into their business plans, or whether it is product specific. Also, many publishers consider transmedia to be the task of marketers, and often find themselves not too involved in the process. Judging by the amount of money marketing gets from the budget, one can assume that transmedia is not often a viable option to consider with their books or magazines.

Books as an age-old product,  can be incorporated as part of a bigger narrative architecture which would aim to spark enough curiosity in readers to click, scroll on other devices and to recognize fragments in their daily social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, games, movies, music, and so forth, to generate their own content, and attend live events adding more value to the story as a whole.

One cannot speak about transmedia storytelling without speaking about platforms, devices, and technology.  Publishers now and in the future, need to explore how different platforms can be used to distribute content. Different media platforms can be categorized as literature (the manuscript, book or magazine in print and e-book format), films, television, radio, games, social media, and guerilla marketing skits (or street theatre). Besides the latter, audience consume content from these platforms on multiple devices.

Transmedia storytelling examples: 

By these examples a common thread that often exists in transmedia storytelling is virality. The tendency for a media form such as an image, video or song to gain prominence online through various views, and interaction (through personal blogs, sharing or retweeting) with it. The aspect of virality does lend a brand, or book title its susceptibility in becoming transmedia.

The examples below show how books have evolved into other media forms vis a vis transmedia storytelling. Other exceptions will show that movies, or digi-novels have evolved into books and other transmedia platforms.

The Lord of the Rings. Most likely the most popular and well-known uses of transmedia storytelling is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. This trilogy stems from the 1950s  in book (print) format before it expanded into various other genres and platforms, such as games (board, card, mobile), cartoons, films, songs, merchandise and collectibles, and even internet memes, such as “You shall not pass”, a classic during finals. Audience who have often read the book will end up watching the films, or collecting merchandise or buy the board game. The very serious fans often attend comic festivals and dress up for Halloween.

Sherlock Holmes. This fictional character is perhaps one of the most famous names out there. Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, Sherlock Holmes has featured in several written works by the same author and has moved on to becoming a franchise across media platforms such as film, TV shows, radio, and games.

Cinderella 2.0. By the name, we can see that an age-old narrative of a girl mistreated by her stepfamily finds true love with a rich handsome monarch, when he discovers her glass slipper, is being re-told through transmedia, as audiences assuming the role of the prince on his search for the girl who got onto a stage and sings. She stuns the audience. As she gets removed by security, she looses her shoe. Upon discovery of the shoe, a huge virality takes off where audiences engage in several platforms to find the “Cinderella”. Her song goes viral on iTunes,  and the list goes on. Transmedia showcases the reality of audiences and how they adapt to information. In order to stay relevant to a hyper connected generation being present in their minds and lives, we need “Liquid content” adaptable in order to distribute it on all available mediums, vis a vis Cinderella 2.0 illustration. 

Level 26. This horror digi-novel written by Anthony E Zuiker who is also the creator of CSI, began as  a book online at www.level26.com and was an interactive extension of the book series. This transmedia idea lets the reader move from the book to visual content online on the website. The success of this digi-novel has captured the likes of Dutton Publishing for print.

Dejobaan GamesA video game developer who has combined both literature and gaming into one. The art game, Elegy, where the player writes diary entries visible to other players, explores three worlds inspired by British romantic poets  like Shelley, Byron, and Keats. This game has received good reviews for alternative and new introduction to how literature and gaming have formed a new experience whereby narrative storytelling took prominence over action. The software company, Steam received an honourable mention at the 2014 Independent Games Festival for their participation in this new art form. Transmedia, therefore, brings several genres, and professions (technology, art, and literature) together to create a collective narrative experience.

Transmedia as semiotic

According to Scolari from the University of Vic in Catalunya, Spain, “many concepts have been developed to describe the convergence of media, languages, and formats in contemporary media systems” (Scolari, 2009: 586).

His article proposes a theoretical approach to transmedia storytelling (TS) that combines semiotics and narratology – a combination that should be explained before these “complex textures” are analysed.

Furthermore, the definition of semiotics is outlined by the author as being, “concerned with sense production and interpretation processes.” Semiotics, Scolari contends, is very useful in describing sense production devices such as transmedia narratives.

I am in agreement with Scolari that transmedia storytelling proposes a new narrative model based on different media and languages, and it invokes sense production and interpretation processes. The excitement around transmedia storytelling is definitely the visual and technological appeal. User-friendly technology of creating code to form websites, and interact with other users in a Second Life, appeals to audiences across the world. Publishers need to cash in on this movement to stay in the game, and ahead of it.

YouTube user Alyiswriting, describes transmedia storytelling  as the idea of telling a story through multiple platforms with each platform making its own unique contribution to the content of the story. Pottermore. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (comic books). Beatgirl

Transmedia as new media  

i) New media in scholarly publishing:

“The difference between traditional and new media excellence lie in both form and content” (Ioppolita et al 2009).

“New media research spans numerous genres, from critical essays to political activism to community-building to software design.” Furthermore, there exists a handful of journals that concern new media. “The Leonardo journal (MIT Press) is of this writing the only print journal with a longstanding track record as a peer-reviewed journal about new media” (Ioppolita et al 2009). This discussion is, however, particular to academic journals and their approach to new media. There are others, such as Fibreculture in Sydney, First Monday in Chicago, Vectors in Los Angeles, and Digital Creativity in Copenhagen.

In terms of citations, Ioppolita et al (2009) states that they are a valuable and versatile measure of peer influence because they may originate from various platforms such as websites, databases and books in print and e-format[3].

Downloads and visitor counts, is another tool to measure transmedia interaction in the scholarly field. Downloads and web traffic statistics show a measure of influence that has gained the attention of an online community. An Open Access study by Brody and Harnad (2005) found that “the significance of citation impact is well established, access of research literature via the Web provides a new metric for measuring the impact of articles—Web download impact[4].”

Ioppolita’s paper, although it speaks to academic publishing, points out that practitioners across several disciplines have fallen behind in making their works available in new ways online and across several other platforms, such as Second Life[5] communities and other online conference venues and archives.

Transmedia as convergence, cross-media and franchising

Jenkins (2003), when he speaks of transmedia, has referred to it as convergence culture. To a larger degree, the notion of transmedia as a franchising is another definition to consider. “Industry professionals and media consumers, may see transmedia storytelling to bring greater institutional coordination, added narrative integrality, and deeper engagement to the various pieces of contemporary media franchises,” says Johnson (2014). Transmedia storytelling, as the various explanations have pointed out, is indeed a means for publishers to turn their works into franchises.

And why not?

Despite the negative notions that surround the word franchise, transmedia incorporates all forms of creativity across various platforms, lending acknowledgement to various authors. The evolving concept of transmedia as new media, convergence, semiotics, and franchising, is only just the beginning coming to understand the vast possibilities there exists with this movement that enables audience participation, and publishers being able to engage their content by adding more value for itself and its stakeholders.

 

References:

Ioppolito, J., Blais, J., Smith, O., Evans, S.m and Stormer, N., “New Criteria for New Media” in Leonardo, Vol. 42, No.1 (2009), pp 71-75. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. url: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20532592

Simcole, L.  Feb 26, 2015. “Writers see e-ink on the wall” in MetroVancouver. (p.16).

Jenkins, H. 2003. Confessions of Aca-fan. The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins.


[3] Ioppolita et al (2009) New Criteria for New Media (p.72).

[4] Brody and Harnad  (2005)“Earlier Web Usage Statistics as Predictors of Later Citation Impact”.

2 Comments

  1. As someone unfamiliar with the concept of transmedia, I was intrigued by the author’s proposition that this new format should be explored by publishers; however, although my understanding of what constitutes transmedia and key examples of this concept already in existence was expanded, I felt the paper was vague and confusing, and that the author’s claims were utterly unsubstantiated and the thesis never addressed.

    From the outset, the author’s thesis felt to be lacking, and could be strengthened with the addition of details or supporting evidence indicating how exactly transmedia storytelling is an “opportunity” (be it in terms of revenue, increased access to audience) that traditional publishers should explore. I am told there is an opportunity here, but I don’t understand its benefits.

    Moving through the essay, there is unfortunately little done in the way of supporting the thesis. Anecdotal evidence and decontextualized quotes are provided but are never linked back to the thesis, and ideas are often left hanging without any proof or evidence to substantiate them.

    An example of this comes in the final paragraph of the section “Transmedia as convergence” where the author claims that transmedia is “a marketing tool, a means of engaging and enticing new audiences to buy your product, or become loyal members to your brand. Other purposes of transmedia storytelling is accessing alternative revenue streams for new business models, and thereby creating new value through stories and their experiences.” This statement is left unexplained, with no proof or examples given, and the reader is left asking, “how?”

    The entire paper feels disjointed and is extremely difficult to follow, with ideas tossed out and abandoned (for example, the author’s mention of Penguin Books’ Level 26 in the fifth paragraph of the section on “Transmedia and fandom” left unexplained until 10 paragraphs later), and there appears to be very little logic stringing the ideas together.

    By the end of the paper, I was extremely confused as to the author’s intention and argument, and was struggling to understand the connection between the extensive discussion presented and the thesis the paper had led with.

    I would recommend a substantial reorganization of the paper, and that the author pare down the content to focus on points and arguments only directly related to and/or supporting her thesis that transmedia is an opportunity that should be explored by publishers. Furthermore, focusing on only one or two examples of transmedia successes would help narrow the paper’s scope and make the concept of transmedia extremely clear in the mind of readers.

    I would also recommend that the author be cautious in her introduction of terms and concepts that have working definitions that fall outside their normal usage (an example being the concept of “transmedia as semiotic”). If they must be used, a solid and concise working definition should be supplied.

  2. This essay tries to tackle so many aspects of transmedia that it does not end up tackling any of them well. Each paragraph seems to go off in its own direction without any clear narrative that links them together, making for very chaotic reading experience. As a reader, I have the impression that this essay is a cross-stitching of other’s writings on the topic of transmedia, where concepts such as “transmedia as semiotics”, “transmedia as convergence” and “transmedia and fandom” are presented without a clear purpose and without clarity.

    By the end, I found myself unsure of what definition or aspect of transmedia the author wanted me to think about. The thesis loosely laid out at the onset of the essay (the need for publishers to adopt an evolving definition of transmedia) is completely lost by the second section. Moreover, publisher’s role in the essay is also lost, with no link made between the various concepts and sections and what the author proposes publishers to do.

    There is a lot of (potentially) interesting content to draw upon, with rich ideas and seem to have an academic literature behind it. However, the author only presents a few pieces of this content without the context with which to understand it, leaving the reader lost and confused.

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