Publishers to sell experiences and not products

In the last episode of Mad Men (series 1) Donald Draper had his ‘eureka’ moment when he thought he had to reinvent the wheel.  Kodak had told him it was a ‘wheel’, when in fact it was the circular cartridge to hold a series of slides for a projector.  Don wasn’t happy with trying to reinvent the wheel – it wasn’t a sexy concept – so he took the cartridge home and used it, finally deciding it was more a carousel than a wheel.  Of course, being Don Draper, he wowed the client, sealed the deal and sold consumers the promise of the ‘experience’ of the carousel.  It was a ride, a journey!  You got on and enjoyed the ride, the memories, “travelling around and around and then back home again”.  Draper sold his ad campaign by tapping into consumers personal experiences and nostalgia rather than boring their asses off by trying to invent the wheel.  The guy’s a legend.  Click the image to view the clip It only runs for a couple of minutes and is perfect for a ‘between-the-cracks’ moment (more on that later..)  Please view it – it’s important!

Transmedia storytelling hinges on experience by adding value to a storyworld and immersion into a deeper engagement with the world and characters and it’s something that holds great allure for the entertainment industries – from broadcasters to publishers, filmmakers to ad agencies to game producers.  The bucks are in immersion, engagement and experience right now and the host of platforms and mobility that the internet offers mean that these are exciting times.  Transmedia strategy as a whole could perhaps be seen not so much as the carousel, but more like the entire funfair.  Fragmenting storyworlds across a variety of platforms and mediums is an acutely strategic task and requires a knowledge of genre, audience demographics and platform engagement but, done correctly, can offer the entire ‘fun of the fair’.  Try some bite-sized fun at the coconut shy or the hoopla – it only takes a few minutes of your time and you walk away relatively unscathed.  This could be the transmedia equivalent of a quick Facebook quiz or answering questions on a forum or poll.  You want more of a ‘buzz’?  Then how about experiencing the high-speed exhilaration of the rollercoaster where you ride the incline and anticipate the drop – perhaps the hands on interaction of receiving a call on your cell from a ‘character’ or maybe attending an exciting live event.  Or maybe you’d like a short journey to get up-close-and-personal with the characters – how about trying the ghost train – a themed linear ‘experience’?   OK – to overly try and shoe-horn transmedia into a fun-fair theme has it’s limitations but transmedia entertainment as an experience is where the money is, on the condition that the content is smoking, the writing is classy and the publisher/broadcaster/producer has a water-tight strategy on distribution, platforms and timing.

Enthrill Entertainment is a boutique publishing company focused on bringing thrillers with current content to market using the most innovative means possible and have recently released One Child, written by 5 times bestselling author Jeff Buick and embraces online culture, fictionalizing real events as they happen. Available online through e-reader, on iPhone and iPad this ‘experience’ uses book/narrative as the primary platform, using similar architecture to my Staying Single project, whereby the primary platform was a character blog.  In One Child fictional characters have Facebook profiles and readers can interact online, receiving messages as replies.  In One Child the corporations have websites and WKIO 510 is an in-story radio station that delivers the daily news – and what’s happening in the book.

In seeing the One Child Enthrill diagram for the immersive experience I struck me that it wasn’t so totally removed from my (rather amateur) diagram for my Staying Single project and also resonates with concepts from the Conversation Prism.

Cameron Chell, Enthrill COO, shoots from the hip and, in my opinion, gets it right when he says that he believes this model will attract the best authors; authors who want to be prolific and immerse their readers into the story.  “Not only on the page, but also into an entire experience that can be contextualised in a global event.”  He goes on to say, “This will move the publishing industry from a product industry to an experience industry.  The revenue streams that are available around an experience are vastly larger than they are in just selling a product.”

CEO of Enthrill, Wayne Logan agrees that readers want great content and adds, “They want to understand world events as they unfold. We are changing the publishing model by delivering this content while the stories are still in the headlines.”

I’ve often mentioned how I believe crime, sci fi and thriller are perfect introductory genres for publishers using transmedia as their very nature raises a level of curiosity and engagement as we try to outsmart the characters with whodunnit or why.  But I also believe that transmedia can and will fit all genres and perhaps even nurture the arrival of new, interstitial genres as we tap into that deeper bond, the nostalgia, that Don Draper advocates – perhaps not so much”‘opening the pain from old wounds”, but offering reminders and engagement with experiences that have touched (or could touch) our lives.  Joe Esposito discusses the potential of bite-sized fiction and interstitial publishing ‘between the cracks’ in his post at http://www.ibpa-online.org/articles/shownews.aspx?id=2989 and he touches on a hugely valid point – that publishers should release bite-sized content to fill those gaps in the day that are currently alleviated by the ‘pick-up/put-down’ games such as Solitaire, Tetris, BeJeweled or Farmville.  Those ‘cracks’ in the day – the few minutes we’re waiting for the train, or don’t want to waste the last 5 minutes of our lunch break by arriving back at our desk early (!) are the moments that a 3 minute YouTube video can fill, perhaps the cyberbridges of novels such as Level 26 or the ugc videos of Pulling Power.  Fabulous transmedia storytelling will engage with readers in spaces where they already ‘hang out’, in modes of conversation that they are familiar with and will offer experiences to deepen immersion and heighten awareness.

We can view the potential of transmedia storytelling as a carousel, or even the whole fun-fair, if we so wish.

We can herald the iPad as the main game-changer.

We can discuss how gaming companies and ad agencies are using the concept of ‘story’ in far greater ways than publishers are currently seen to be.

But, as Don Draper states, “technology is a glittering lure, but there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond ‘flash’.”  He goes on to advise how ‘new’ creates an itch but how audiences will nurture a deeper bond with the product through nostalgia.

As he says, “it’s delicate, but potent.”

Which, whether a story hinges on nostalgia or not, is what transmedia most definitely is when implemented properly – both delicate, but extremely potent.

Shopping by genre or by platform? The ‘chicken & egg’ of transmedia publishing…?

I came across Her Interactive this week, publishers of the Nancy Drew stories and was impressed to find that they offer a ’shop by platform’ option, which retains the focus on where it’s important – the story.  The device, or ‘means’ for the experience is consequential and driven by reader/user choice  and it got me thinking that this could eventually be an option that we take for granted.

By casting off those expectations that we’ve grown up with – a story is… text on a page, actors on the stage, special effects on the screen or a narrator reading – it’s a natural step to dictate how we want our stories; as I mentioned in my recent WIRED UK feature on transmedia storytelling, whether you want to read, listen, watch or ‘do’.  Making such choices will depend largely on what is the most convenient or appealing option.  It depends on your priorities, what your ‘device’ or platform of preference is is and the level of immersion you want from your transmedia ‘experience’.  The question remains, (in ‘chicken and egg’ style) which comes first – what you want (genre) and then how (device/platform)? Or the other way around?  Or does it matter?

Current digital platforms include these, but to truly fragment transmedially we can’t ignore everywhere that words appear – from bill boards to grafitti, business cards to posters (now we’re getting ‘viral’, but hey – isn’t ‘versatility’ key!)

When storybibling, fragmenting and delivering transmedia stories across a host of devices and platforms, it’s not so much about the physicality of each device, more the window that the platform offers, through which to experience the story.  Somebody once said about transmedia that “it’s all about the event”, but if transmedia is going to be the buzz word of 2010 as predicted, considering how we experience story elements is vital and the primary focus, not the individual devices.

It all goes back to relevance once again.  Andrew Savikas coined this on the TOC blog, “The bigger issue I see is that thinking of the problem as “how do we get a textbook onto an iPhone” is framing it wrong. The challenge is “how do we use a medium that already shares 3 of our 5 senses eyes, ears, and a mouth along with geolocation, color video, and a nearly-always-on Web connection to accomplish the ‘job’ of educating a student.” That’s a much more interesting problem to me than “how do we port 2-page book layouts to a small screen.”

It boils down to strategy.  Transmedia as a storytelling mode is both exciting and dynamic but must be underpinned by a solid strategic structure which is built on a versatility and awareness.  On-point strategy is to consider a series of elements such as experience design, social media behaviours and user data and the aim of a successful transmedia roll-out is to engage readers across a series of platforms, offering a story element relevant to the genre/reader environment and the platform.  This is achieved by keeping a sharp focus on the storyworld and considering the context of:

  • reader habitats (digitally and real world),
  • reader trends and behaviours,
  • readers scope for embracing ‘experience’,
  • opportunity for branding/marketing within relevant realms of the storyworld.

All of which will help to develop exceptional strategies to enable positive experiences.

Earlier this year I attended a talk at the ICA in London where interactive GPS experiences, Mediascapes, were being discussed along with ‘levels of immersion and some of the considerations in developing immersive experiences included:

Surface immersion .vs. deep immersion
Information .vs. evocation
User control .vs. no control
Clear rules .vs. no rules
Arbitrary mapping .vs. clear mapping
Linear .vs. non linear
Private .vs. public
Solitary .vs. shared

All of which are hugely valid in considering how your genre readers/audience behave, and how you want them to behave.

Further, on scrutinising the Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas I began attempting to adopt the relevance of the prism elements to my transmedia chick lit/rom com project but had to remind myself that this is a prism about CONVERSATION.  For transmedia we need something more than simply conversation, as this is only a facet of the bigger picture of transmedia.  I’m now working on the big picture for a transmedia prism and would love some collaborators!   How about developing an interaction prism, an immersion prism along with an engagement prism to help make the big picture?

I started to mark out of 10 how relevant the ‘petals’ on the prism might be when adapting these platforms to a contemporary women’s transmedia fiction.  ‘Comment and reputation’ scored a 9 (as the ‘over the fence’ gossip and recommendation scores highly with us girls), ‘crowdsourced content’ only scored a 4 as I felt that this would be more fitting in more of a gaming environment.  (No doubt it would be ace to build an online photographic portfolio of my characters lifestyles in London, Vegas and Paris but the truth is, would busy women really be bothered to send in photos?  No, I didn’t think so either.)

Based on my research to date, If I had to choose some elements from the conversation prism that I believe are the front runners when considering the 360 view of a transmedia fiction for women, I’d pick out ‘comment and reputation’, ‘micromedia’, ‘sms/voice’, ‘forums’, ‘social networks’, ‘interest and curated networks’, ‘location’, ‘video’, ‘events’, ‘music’, ‘livecasting video and audio ‘and ‘pictures’.  Of course, this remains a ‘work in progress’ as I continue to write, develop and produce my chicklit/romcom transmedia story, but in the meantime if anybody is seriously up for some brainstorming collaboration on that Transmedia Prism, then please holler…