Hot off the press: digital books, digital storytelling, game adaptation study

My Latest publications:

Chapter 2, ‘The Muddle Earth Journey: Brand Consistency and Cross-Media Intertextuality in Game Adaptation’ in Storytelling in the Media Convergence Age: Exploring Screen Narratives, Palgrave Macmillan (Edited by Roberta Pearson, Anthony N. Smith)

Chapter preview link

‘The Digital Book (R)evolution’, in Logos (Forum of the World Book Community), Volume 25, Issue 4

Article link

Mechanical Dances

For the intellectual elites of the twentieth century, the printed book embodied the order and unity of culture; it was the guarantor of knowledge. The belief in the centrality of books was held by professional writers, literary scholars, philosophers, historians, and even by art historians and musicologists, who studied other media but set down their results in books and articles. Now, in the twenty-first century, the book is simultaneously changing form and losing status, and writers and humanists find these changes extremely traumatic. What is perhaps surprising is how untraumatic these changes are to others in contemporary media culture. If you walk from the back to the front of an airplane today, you are likely to see passengers in every row with digital devices: some reading books on iPads or Kindles; many playing videogames or listening to digital music. Yet others will be reading printed newspapers or paperbacks. For our…

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Who cares about the future of the printed book…

The Literary Platform article: The Digital Book (R)evolution

A short article by me in The Literary Platform, published today.

Based on research for PhD, which is about digital books, the intersection of “books” with digital forms, platforms and conventions (e.g. games, apps, social platforms, UGC)…

Any feedback / ideas very welcomed, especially regarding the two diagrams.

EXCERPT:

The Digital Book (R)evolution @clauzdifranco explores ideas of divergence and continuity in the evolution of the book.

Most discourses about the survival of print, or the struggle of print against digital, derive from a simplistic view of the book – one which is typically aligned with the novel, that apogee of the literary world. There is a tendency to present change and innovation in formats and technologies as if they follow a single, linear path in which a format is replaced by the next new format in a consecutive fashion. The reality experienced by publishing practitioners is very different: a single title will often exist in a range of formats, with publishers releasing print, ebook, enhanced ebook and story app versions all based on the same source material. I think it is more accurate, and fruitful, to  conceive of change and innovation in terms of branching paths, with older and newer formats co-existing and influencing each other….

Read the full, short article here: bit.ly/1mgxYI8

List of conferences related to digital books, digital storytelling, cross-media / transmedia storytelling, interactive narratives…

It’s hard to define exactly where digital books end and other forms of narrative / storytelling begin. Think of storybook apps, for example (with gaming elements with creative features such as draw-your-own characters or record your story); or game-books, or “adventures” such as Inkle’s Sorcery, talked about by both book publishers and game developers as a form they recognise (Inkle define it as a game, but it has large amounts of text on the screen, a branching narrative dependent on choices and game-like actions by user / player / reader).
These are just a few examples of a myriad forms of narrative being experimented with in digital media, across platforms, devices and even crossing into other media such as printed book, comics, TV, film, AR, “real” life events, etc…

This is a list of conferences / events (with a UK / US / English language bias) that may be of interest if you’re into producing, or researching, this type of works. So a mix of industry and academia events (unfortunately typically “separated”). And there is also another bias: my current interest in “digital books” and games.

Oh… and please send suggestions of any events / conferences not listed! (this will hopefully help address the UK / English bias)

 

By the Book conference, Florence

This one took place this May, and I presented a paper. It was small scale, but with a high concentration of quality papers and people ready to engage in debate – one of most stimulating conferences I’ve attended. Hopefully again next year. Description from website:

This two-day conference brings together scholars from the field of publishing studies to examine key issues around the digital transformation of the book, as well as to discuss the developing field of publishing studies.

Analysed will be a key set of questions. How is the landscape of the book in Europe changing due to digital transformation? How will terrestrial bookshops survive the growth of ebooks? Are there international forces for change which will affect all markets, and what domestic factors will prevail? What is the connection between the spread of English as the global lingua franca and the growth of digital publishing?

This is the first conference to bring together researchers and teachers of publishing studies from all parts of Europe and aims to be the first in a series of such meetings. Also welcome are industry practitioners who wish to contribute to the debates.

Conference programme:
http://publishing.brookes.ac.uk/resources/By_the_Book_-_programme_for_Publishing_Studies_conference_-_Florence_23_and_24_May_2014.pdf

My talk at this conference:
https://www.academia.edu/7279379/The_Digital_Book_R_evolution_-_By_the_Book_conference_Florence_May_…

Conference committee

  • Benoȋt Berthou, University of Paris 13 (LABSIC)
  • Ernst-Peter Biesalski, HTWK, Leipzig
  • Alberto Cadioli, University of Milan
  • Pascal Durand, University of Liège
  • Miha Kovač, University of Ljubljana
  • Angus Phillips, Oxford Brookes University (Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies)
  • Adriaan van der Weel, University of Leiden

Associate partners

  • Association for Publishing Education
  • Brill
  • Federation of European Publishers

http://publishing.brookes.ac.uk/conference/by_the_book

ICIDS — Interactive Storytelling
International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling
Academics, computer scientists, developers. Proceedings published annually by Springer. Description from website:
From 2001 to 2007, two European conference series addressed the open challenges of Interactive Storytelling, serving as annual meeting points for scientists, researchers and developers from diverse disciplines. In 2008, these conferences merged into ICIDS: the International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling.
http://icids.org/

The Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference
2013 description, industry-orientated with large presence of practitioners from publishing area:
The Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference on 21st November is Europe’s biggest publishing conference. This two-stream event will highlight innovations, transformations and disruptions in the industry, all of which are sure to challenge your thinking.
http://www.futurebook.net/conferences

DigitalBookWorld Conference + Expo
Industry / practitioner focus, very large event. Description from their website:
Now celebrating its sixth year, the Digital Book World Conference + Expo is the preeminent conference on digital content and digital publishing strategies. In 2014 it brought together over 1,500 media, publishing and technology professionals from around the world focused o developing, building and transforming their organizations to compete in the constantly evolving digital media ecosystem.
http://conference.digitalbookworld.com/ehome/index.php?eventid=90839&tabid=195530&

Power to the Pixel (PttP) Cross-Media Forum
Focus on helping film industry gain cross-media / transmedia skills. Description from 2014 event:
We’re delighted to announce that Power to the Pixel’s Cross-Media Forum will take place on the 7-10 October 2014! Held in association with the 58th BFI London Film Festival, this is the ultimate showcase of ideas, people and projects changing the face of media and the place to learn how to adapt to stay relevant to digital change.
This year we’ll focus in on finance models from around the world, bringing together the main commissioners, funders and backers of the newest entertainment and cross-media formats.
There’s also the PttP Lab, and Market – events / workshops to gain skills and access funding.
http://powertothepixel.com/news/uncategorized/crossmedia-forum-dates-announced

Digital Storytelling @ UC Irvine
On April 10, 2014, journalists, writers, designers, web developers, publishers, scholars, students, and members of the community will gather at the UC Irvine School of Humanities for a one-day conference on developments in the field of Digital Storytelling. This conference is free and open to the public; all are welcome.
Organized by the UC Irvine Literary Journalism Program. Co-sponsored by the Department of English, the Conversations on Writing and Public Life Series, the Office of the Provost, and the UC Irvine Humanities Collective. Special thanks to the The UC Irvine Academic Senate Council on Research, Computing and Libraries Conference Support Program. Additional sponsorship provided by Narratively.
http://sites.uci.edu/story/

ENGAGE: The NYC Digital Storytelling Conference
Industry / practice focus. Description from event website:
You know that adept digital storytelling is key to successfully creating an organic community. That’s true whether you’re a publisher, tech company or brand.But tech and trends are radically different today than just a year ago. Everything from contextual and native advertising to branded entertainment to sharable content is changing at the speed of light. Maybe a little faster. How do you keep up?
http://www.talkforumnyc.com/talk-conference/engagethe-nyc-digital-storytelling-conference/

Playful
A one-day conference all about games, play, interaction, behaviour and everything with a playful edge.
Exploring games and play, without being a Games Industry event.
Since 2007, Playful has been a must-attend event in the calendar. Playful brings together a bunch of interesting people to share their ideas, work and things that inspire them. Each year, Playful attracts over 400 attendees from across the creative industries to hear from leading thinkers and doers in games, broadcast, art, advertising, publishing, illustration and beyond.
http://wearemudlark.com/projects/playful/

The Digital Book (R)evolution – By the Book conference , Florence May 2014

The Digital Book (R)evolution – By the Book conference , Florence May 2014

Check my slides and speaker notes here:
The Digital Book (R)evolution – By the Book conference , Florence May 2014

ABSTRACT
Digital media are changing the ways in which books are produced and consumed. In their wide diversity, digital “books” (from enhanced ebooks, to story apps, to game books) challenge the borderlines between books and other forms of digital media. Digital books simultaneously diverge from print books, drawing on other genres and conventions linked to digital affordances, but are also remediating print books, in terms of content, genre conventions, aesthetics, and so on. This presentation starts proposing a typology of digital books that takes into account media convergence, multimodality and remediation from print. Which, by the way, the author thinks will never die out.

More Info: Conference programme: http://publishing.brookes.ac.uk/resources/By_the_Book_-_programme_for_Publishing_Studies_conference_-_Florence_23_and_24_May_2014.pdf

Organization: Conference committee – universities of: Paris 13, Leipzig, Milan, Liège, Ljubljana, Oxford Brookes. Leiden; Associate partners: Association for Publishing Education Brill Federation of European Publishers

Location: Florence, Italy
Event Date: May 23, 2014

Research Interests:
Publishing, Book History, History of the Book, Interactive Digital Storytelling,Interactive and Digital Media, Multimodality, Digital Storytelling, Media Convergence, Interactive Storytelling, and Remediation

Florence, By the Book conference, May 2014: The digital book (r)evolution: barriers to innovation

I’m preparing a paper for this conference, and looking for any views on the topic – feel free to leave a comment, or get in touch for a conversation. Conference details:

http://publishing.brookes.ac.uk/conference/by_the_book

The draft for the proposed paper

Publishers do not (yet) see a market for inventive digital publishing […] But what if the reason we have not seen any real success in innovative ebooks is not a lack of market, but something else altogether?

(Independent publisher David Wilk, digitalbookworld.com, 24.10.2013)

Developments in mobile technology have recently led to the extensive adoption of e-readers and computer tablets. But whilst ebooks (essentially a remediated form of printed books) have become normalised, the often anticipated spread of media-rich ebooks, enhanced ebooks and story apps – which keep structural affinities with printed books but also add features that are gradually transforming reading experiences – has been rather challenging, and often driven from outside publishing.

Publishers have been very careful to invest, and high costs of production mean that it is difficult for self-published authors to drive innovation. Additionally, divergent production formats, fragmented channels of distribution and inconsistent supply chain classifications (leading to discoverability issues) make any breakthrough difficult and threat innovation and creativity.

The paper investigates recent industry contexts and developments, drawing on the analysis of innovative works, industry websites and publications, and interviews with publishers, authors and digital producers to interpret the current state of affairs for innovation in digital books.

Crossing media boundaries: Adaptations and new media forms of the book

Crossing media boundaries: Adaptations and new media forms of the book

Co-authored article in Convergence journal (SAGE).

Abstract

It is necessary to continuously review the definition of the book moving from one bound by its material form to one determined by its function as a means of communication. The book’s social function as the high status vehicle for communicating new ideas and cultural expressions is being challenged by sophisticated systems of conveying meaning in other media. In this article, we report on two projects: electronic book (e-book) publication and reader forum for Nature Mage and the transmedia augmented reality (AR) fiction Sherwood Rise, which investigate these issues. Claudio Pires Franco’s work is based on the adaptation of a source work: Duncan Pile’s Nature Mage. The project aims to develop the book from e-book to a fan-produced enhanced digital book. Through this practice-based research, Franco investigates the definitions and classification of the e and i forms of the book and adaptation in new media; the role of the author in creative collaboration with readers through online forums; the extension of the story world through creative collaboration and reader participation while respecting and safeguarding creative properties. One remove from the traditional book, David Miller’s Sherwood Rise, research the user experience with AR to examine narrative problems and explore new storytelling aesthetics. These new media forms define the outer borders of the book system within which content is formed and moulded, and around which society is shaped.

 

Five Tips for Media Adaptation

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Image: Helioport, the main city in the Nature Mage story. An artist’s (James Ledsham) interpretation in the reader community naturemage.com

Media flows in every direction

Franchises are here to stay. Books are adapted into films, games are turned into toys, which in turn give rise to more books, films, and games – children expect to find their favourite characters across media and platforms. This post, in 2 parts, provides important tips for brand owners and professionals working on adaptations and transmedia storytelling.

Humans have always enjoyed adaptations. From ancient ritual enactments of myths, to the re-telling of fairy tales by medieval itinerant puppet shows, we’ve long loved telling a good story in a different way. And this passion has seemingly never been bigger: we’re not only consuming more media, but watching huge amounts of adaptations. Just looking at the top 20 cinema blockbusters of 2012, at least half are some kind of adaptation (and that is excluding sequels), and ‘where blockbuster films are concerned, the video game release has become the rule rather than the exception’.

Different media industries are converging and influencing each other as never before, with the 21st century also witnessing the emergence of ‘transmedia storytelling’ – a production model where a story is told across different media and platforms, with each part contributing to the story world and narrative.  Think The Matrix (whose ‘complete’ story was told across films, comics, websites and games).

OK, so we love adaptations, and cross-media and transmedia are crucial practices for the media and entertainment industries, especially in the children’s market. But why do (some) adaptations also suffer from a kind of inferiority complex in relation to the originals they’re based on? Why do we say ‘I liked the film, but the book’s better’? Conversely, what makes a good, successful adaptation?

Story Immersion

An explanation involves a mix of Psychology and Anthropology. On the one hand, when children enjoy a story – whether in a book, film, game or toy – they immerse themselves and become emotionally attached, often imagining they are the characters, or at least share some of their qualities. On the other hand, as we become attached to a story, we build a deeper knowledge of it, and a bigger sense of ownership (a little like the teenage feeling of being the number one fan of our favourite band), and also more demanding expectations from any adaptation of our story. We also like to brag about how much we know, and often share our passion with others. This is why fan forums, comic festivals and the Otaku culture of Japan exist.

Audience Expectations

When we look at an adaptation we carry expectations based on our perception of the original. We all make (at least slightly) different readings of a story, but often fan groups also share a set of negotiated core ideas about its essence. If an adaptation is too distant from this essence, we feel disappointed. You just didn’t get the same feelings… The adaptation hasn’t managed to extend or complement the pleasure we had with the original – instead, it has broken away, creating in our head a sort of inconsistent, unsolvable puzzle where the pieces don’t match.

Audience Flows

If you’re a toy maker creating a game based on your toy; or perhaps a book publisher or author that stroke a deal with a TV production firm – whether you’re a licensor or a licensee of an existing brand or IP – you’ll want to make the flow of existing audiences across platforms as seamless and pleasurable as possible. Tapping into an existing audience reduces risk for the ‘adaptor’, and if done properly will reinforce the IP by creating not only a new entry point in a different medium, but also by the possibility of expanding the story universe.

To sum up…

So far, there are three main take-outs from this post: 1) audiences love adaptations; 2) but only if they meet their expectations; and 3) adaptations can creatively diverge but still ought to comply with the essence of a story.

From this, if you’re commissioning an adaptation you have two choices: a) you simply trust your suppliers to do a good job in understanding and ‘translating’ your IP; or b) you also use audience involvement techniques to inform the adaptation process and test the evolving work at key stages.

Audience Involvement Techniques

You can involve your audience using a wide spectrum of techniques, ranging from the more traditional surveys and focus groups, to the more innovative digital ethnography in fan forums, co-creation sessions, studio take-overs, online communities, or perhaps traveling the world interviewing fans about your IP. As they say, ‘horses for courses’.

Whatever you choose, make sure that the people who are in charge of adapting your IP get deeply immersed in it. Discuss the essence of your IP with them, and make sure that the final work achieves a good level of brand consistency with the original.

Essence…

An essential part of the whole process is actually working with a definition of essence. This will guide the adaptation, and clarify how far the translation can go in creatively diverging from the original or source works. Is essence simply using the same settings, characters and visual style? Or does it require a deeper sense of style and tone, effects and feelings in the audience?

The five tips

  1. Immerse the adapting team into the source story / brand – use existing themes as inspiration for mechanics in the adaptation
  2. Understand how your audience sees the source story – this may be different of how you see it, of your view of its essence
  3. Use data to make an informed decision about the media / platforms that you’ll use for the adaptation – and make sure that your audience is using them!
  4. Involve your current and target audiences from day one – co-create with them, test ideas, evolve in an informed way
  5. Innovate. By all means use existing products and genres as inspiration, but don’t just do a re-skinning of a successful format – that will most probably put fans off!

About the Blogger

Claudio is Senior Research Manager at Dubit, where he advises start-ups and global brands on how to travel across media. He holds an MA in Media (adaptation) and is currently doing a PhD as part of the international team working on the UNESCO Chair project ‘Crossing Media Boundaries: New Media Forms of the Book’ – to develop audience involvement and media adaptation models.

Want to chat about these ideas and approaches? See contact details in ‘Get in Touch’ tab.

BOOKS 3.0: Cross-media Adaptation and Audience Involvement (part 7 of 7) Books and the Media Industries Landscape

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This post is one of a series based on my draft writings and thoughts for a current PhD research project, part of the UNESCO Chair project ‘Crossing Media Boundaries: Adaptations and New Media Forms of the Book’. I am working with a self-published author to create a co-creative online reader community where users can share their very own content, stories, artwork, etc. to expand the story world across media. Its an experiment, and the journey is only starting… http://naturemage.com All feedback / ideas welcome!

Image: Nature Mage logo, by James Ledsham – see his profile here: http://www.naturemage.com/people-working-on-this-community

……

In the last few decades, the ways in which the media and creative industries operate have been importantly changed by a vast growth in the use of digital media. This was accompanied by phenomena of media convergence (defined and redefined by Henry Jenkins, 2006; 2009, 2011),:

…convergence, which in Convergence Culture, I describe as a paradigm for thinking about the current moment of media change, one which is defined through the layering, diversification, and interconnectivity of media. Convergence contrasts with the Digital Revolution model which assumed old media would be displaced by new media.

The growth of global media conglomerates (Brookey, 2010), and an increase in strategies of horizontal and vertical consolidation (Kerr, 2006). These movements have given origin to changes in modes of media production, namely in the dynamics of cross-media and transmedia[1] production.

Creative and media industries have been producing unprecedented levels of derivative, adapted and transmedia works. Popular properties, especially for younger audiences, and no matter which media they originate from, typically end up existing in multiple forms across a range of media, platforms and devices. The number of examples is extensive, but consider some of the most substantial recent examples such as: Star Wars, The Matrix, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters.

Today’s games are deeply enmeshed in the ‘convergence’ that characterises modern media: books are made into films which are made into games (and vice versa), which in turn generate a myriad of other texts and commodities. (Buckingham, 2006: 4)

Traditionally the ‘winds of adaptation’ have blown from books into films, later into games and commodities. Some of the examples listed above fit with this.  However, nowadays successful properties originating in virtually any media or form make their journey across the array of existing media and platforms[2]. Moshi Monsters or Angry Birds, for example, started as online games and originated books, films, toys and games for other platforms, to name but a few derivative texts and commodities. This is not to say that books are less important. They are still frequently considered, and used, as a privileged, high quality source of inspiration for other media,. Books are often seen as having a superior status than more recent media such as film and games.

The movement towards media convergence and the intersection of books with other media have had rippling effects for the book publishing industry. The relations between book publishing (particularly for children and young adults) and other media sectors have been characterised by unparalleled levels of convergence. Numerous bestsellers are based on properties originating from TV, cinema and digital games, whilst on the opposite direction publishers have created in-house divisions to manage the production of cartoons, apps, games and other media products based on their properties.

Books are increasingly part of the cross-media expansion universes of popular properties originating either from other media industries, or from within the authoring and publishing sector. In this context, books – or rather, the stories they tell and the characters they portray – are perceived as ‘brands’ with the potential to be spread across different media.

Consequences of cross-mediability selection

Raises questions around authorship, potentially giving rise to controversy surrounding notions of genuine ‘artistic’ creativity, and of balance between commercialisation of properties and quality cultural and media production.


[1] The term transmedia is often used interchangeably with the terms multi-platform and cross-media. It is hoped that this research project will attempt to clarify the use of these and other terms employed to describe forms of cultural production where the same property (the same story, the same characters) exists across different media and platforms – whether the property is created from the onset across different media, or started on one medium, and then spread out to other media and platforms, and whether each new text adds anything to the property, its story and universe. This is relevant as an attempt to clean up some of the confusion, overlap and misuse of many of these terms, both in academia and within the media industries.

[2] This movement has been facilitated by an explosion in the use of digital media, resulting in easier access to content.

BOOKS 3.0: Cross-media Adaptation and Audience Involvement (part 6 of 7) Transmedia, Cross-media, Adaptations? Changing Media, Shifting Definitions – Transmedia

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This post is one of a series based on my draft writings and thoughts for a current PhD research project, part of the UNESCO Chair project ‘Crossing Media Boundaries: Adaptations and New Media Forms of the Book’. I am working with a self-published author to create a co-creative online reader community where users can share their very own content, stories, artwork, etc. to expand the story world across media. Its an experiment, and the journey is only starting… http://naturemage.com All feedback / ideas welcome!

Image: Nature Mage logo, by James Ledsham – see his profile here: http://www.naturemage.com/people-working-on-this-community

……

The use of the term transmedia has been so varied and stretched that it risks – as in Murray’s criticism of the term ‘new media’ – becoming too vague and of little value. I believe that the term is useful, when it applies to specific forms of storytelling that depart from previous formats, but indeed there has been a little too much ‘buzz’ about the term, which resulted in misuse and misunderstanding. Take the following statement[1], found on the website of a company that specialises in transmedia training, as an illustration of the reigning confusion:

Other terms for transmedia include immersive storytelling, deep media, persistent narratives and multi-platform storytelling. We prefer to use the word “transmedia” because it is a neat shorthand to capture all of those concepts.

The statement draws in a whirlpool of concepts under transmedia, not making it clear what it really is. In other examples, taken from industry and practice settings, there seems to be an underlying assumption that there is general consensus on the meaning of transmedia. For example, in last year’s report of Power to the Pixel[2] (ref, 4), a media collective who organise the renown Cross-Media Forum, one can read:

This report uses the term ‘cross-media’ rather than ‘transmedia’ to describe projects which take stories to audiences across a range of media platforms. The differences in the two terms are a minor semantic issue and the two terms are used interchangeably by advocates without any confusion.

Although there have been some wonderful creative media artefacts coming out of Power to the Pixel, this over-simplification and the merging of the two concepts means that transmedia again seems to be anything that crosses media (or platforms), nothing more than cross-media. But the term transmedia storytelling, as we will see, was coined to refer to specific types of artefacts, stories or universes that are spread indeed across media, but in particular ways.

Although I do agree that it may often be wise to avoid getting stuck in fruitless semantic discussions, it is also true that one finds numerous cases of problematic usage of the terms. This, in turn, may drive to a blurring of analytical focus when researchers look at different types of texts that overall fall into the cross-media and transmedia labels, which in turn may result in scholars ending up being limited by choosing literature and analytical standpoints that are not fully suitable for the texts that they are studying.

The problematic uses of the term can be broadly characterised into the following tow main categories:

  • Interchangeability: when transmedia is used to describe cross-media adaptation (and even franchised products)
  • Elasticity: when transmedia is used to describe very distinct forms of cultural production, stretching its meaning too far for it to hold any significant descriptive or analytical value

Henry Jenkins (2011)[3], in his blog Confessions of an AcaFan, proposes some trends that help explain the abuse of the term: ‘

  1. different groups of people are defining a still emerging concept differently for different purposes for different audiences in different contexts
  2. some of those who talk about transmedia are less immersed in the previous writings and thinkings as we might wish and thus can bring a certain degree of fog
  3. some groups are strongly motivated to expand or blur the scope of the category for self promotional and self advancement purposes.

At this stage it seems important to look at the origins of the term. Marsha Kinder was the first scholar to use the term transmedia in 1990 (Kinder, 1993). Kinder analysed examples of what she coined transmedia intertextuality among television, movies and toys, using the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as an example of a ‘commercial supersystem of transmedia intertextuality’. According to the author these systems engage with their audiences in ‘combined modes of spectatorship’, in order to:

[C]onstruct consumerist subjects who can more readily assimilate and accommodate whatever objects they encounter, including traditional modes of image production like cinema and new technological developments like interactive multimedia.

In his own words, Henry Jenkins was ‘one of the first to popularize the term, transmedia storytelling’; his revisited definition (Jenkins, 2011) one of the most widely used both in academia and industrial circles:

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get 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.

An example commonly used by the author is The Matrix franchise, which conveys ‘key bits of information’ through various artefacts: films, animated shorts, comic books and videogames. Jenkins explains that ‘there is no one single source or ur-text where one can turn to gain all of the information needed to comprehend the Matrix universe’.

(ref – Jenkins 101)

In spite of sticking to this definition, in Transmedia 202 Jenkins revisits the term adding a list of reflections and considerations to help explain his meaning for it, but also suggests that there is no transmedia ‘formula’. The definition of transmedia is shifting and evolving:

[W]e are still in a period of experimentation and innovation. New models are emerging through production practices and critical debates, and we need to be open to a broad array of variations of what transmedia means in relation to different projects. The more we expand the definition, the richer the range of options available to us can be. It doesn’t mean we expand transmedia to the point that anything and everything counts, but it means we need a definition sophisticated enough to deal with a range of very different examples.

Andrea Phillips, a renowned contemporary transmedia producer, is clearly also an enthusiastic defender of transmedia storytelling, but she also adopts a rounded view of the problematic nature of defining transmedia. She writes (Phillips, 2012:13) that defining ‘what we mean when we say “transmedia storytelling” […] is shockingly difficult to do […] it’s flat-out impossible to nail down a single definition that everyone can happily agree on’. Taking contemporary media production in the US as a frame of reference, Phillips distinguishes between West Coast and East Coast transmedia. The first, also known as Hollywood or franchise transmedia consists of:

Multiple big pieces of media: feature films, video games […] grounded in big-business commercial storytelling. The stories in these projects re interwoven, but lightly: each piece can be consumed on its own, and you’ll still come away with the idea that you were given a complete story.

Star Wars, Tron, Avatar and Transformers embrace this approach. On the ‘other end of the spectrum’:

East coast transmedia tends to be more interactive and much more web-centric […] these projects make heavy use of social media and are often run over a set period of time rather than persisting for ever. The plot is so tightly woven between media that you might not fully understand what’s going on if you don’t actively seek out multiple pieces of the story.

An example of this type is ‘Lance Weller’s indie film experience Pandemic, which incorporated a live scavenger hunt, a shirt film, comics, Twitter feeds, and more, all unfolding at the Sundance Film Festival’.

Now going go back to the questions of whether this Nature Mage ‘new media form of the book’ project may be classed as a transmedia project. Taking into account the definitions discussed above, and especially if fan works – art, fiction, and so on – expand the story through an online fan community, and a selection of material filtered into the iBook, creating extensions, backstories, side stories, and visual representations of the story universe, does not this make Nature Mage a transmedia story? The main narrative would still be in the original books, but both the fan website, the iBook, and social media such as YouTube used to spread content, would contain expansions to the story and universe. This would be done in several ways, such as making it ‘come to live’ visually, by creating illustrations of characters; creating backstories and branching narrative to fill gaps and explore specific characters or plots in more detail; adding paratexts such as author interviews; adding extra content based on original writing material that never made it to the final edited version of the book; and other forms of content that expand the story.

For some academics and practitioners, audience involvement is a pre-requisite, or at the very least an essential feature of transmedia.

In the case of Nature Mage, the readers (or ‘fans’) will play a role in guiding the production of the expanded content, as well as being invited to contribute with their own creations based on the story.


[2] explain what it is

[3] ref –  Transmedia 202: Further Reflections, 2011, Aug 1,