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
How can the work described in, and produced through, this project be classed as? Is it an adaptation? Is it a cross-media adaptation? Or perhaps it is a form of transmedia storytelling? These are some of the questions and terms explored in this section. Before we move onto a deeper discussion of the terms, their use (and sometimes abuse), it is important to explain why this classification matters.
This discussion is not simply about semantics. It is important to situate a project for both practice-related and theoretical reasons. In order to learn from previous experiences by other practitioners it is important to figure out what to look for and, more importantly, the location of a project is a necessary condition for the identification of relevant theoretical literature. The other reason to engage in such a discussion, around typology and classification, is related to the frequent confusion encountered on the ground, in academia but particularly in industrial circles.
Terms such as transmedia have often been overstretched, often due to commercial or marketing interests, and a myriad of other related terms are invented frequently, mostly adding to the confusion. Older terms such as cross-media adaptation are often dropped, perhaps because they do not sound as modern, or cutting edge, when in fact they would often be the most suitable terms to describe many works labelled as ‘transmedia’, or ‘multi-platform’, or ’360 media’.
The fact that we are living at a time where experimentation is thriving; where new media, devices, and platforms crop up at an unheard of rate; where media convergence characterises the cultural production landscape; where hybrid forms abound; all mean that classifying and situating a work such as the ‘new media forms’ of Duncan Pile’s Nature Mage produced through this project is not a plain straightforward task. The quickly changing dynamics means that many concepts and definitions are fluid, constantly reshaping and re-positioning themselves.
The terms transmedia and cross-media, used above to situate the project, are commonly used in supposedly unproblematic ways, particularly within industrial contexts (by producers, marketing professionals and industry press), very often without ever being defined. However, when looking more closely at proposed definitions and at examples of works cited, there is a great degree of variability and inconsistency to be found.
Although my feeling of dissatisfaction for some of the definitions I came across, and especially for the misuse of some terms (especially transmedia), had been incubating for some time now, it reached higher, irrepressible levels when I found myself trying to explain to other people what my project consisted of. Although this will only make full sense later in this study, for now it suffices to say that I was not only describing my practice-led project in different ways as it evolved and mutated, but also finding it very hard to describe what type of project it was with any satisfying level of precision. Should it be labelled an adaptation of the book I was using as source material? It certainly sounded as a cross-media adaptation, bringing the book from print (and e-book) format to a fan-produced enhanced digital book. But it also spread content that expanded the book story or world, across different media, including not only the iBook but also the website and social media where fans and artists were spreading and discussing derivative works based on the books. Therefore, could it, or should it, be labelled a transmedia project?
The term coined to describe my effort seemed to be awkwardly long and it was hard to situate it in a sea of new, converging and hybrid forms of media linked to books. It was even harder to classify the range of core and ‘ancillary’ (but very self-sufficient and independent) outputs and texts generated across different platforms, devices and media. The very definition of some of these terms – particularly medium and platform – seemed to crumble beyond my eyes the more I thought about them in this outrageously fast era of media change, shattering and convergence. Bear with me while I revisit the journey I went through to bring some order into these debates. It starts with more solidly accepted definitions, often linked to older forms of media production and academic analyses, and then moves onto more recent, fresher, more problematic territory.