BOOKS 3.0: Cross-media Adaptation and Audience Involvement (part 3 of 7) Transmedia, Cross-media, Adaptations? Changing Media, Shifting Definitions – Adaptation



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… All feedback / ideas welcome!

Image: Nature Mage logo, by James Ledsham – see his profile here:


The Nature Mage digital book can be fairly safely classed as an adaptation. Linda Hutcheon (2006) suggests a definition where adaptations are differentiated from ‘autonomous works’; they are ‘deliberate, announced, and extended revisitations of prior works’. My work is indeed deliberately based on a source work, or ‘adapted text’ to use Hutcheon’s term, the Nature Mage books, and is intended to extend it, not simply reproduce it in another format.

Cross-media Adaptation

Could the project be further classed as a cross-media adaptation? Since it arguably crosses from one medium (book and e-book) onto another (digital interactive book), this seems acceptable.

The Cambridge dictionary defines cross-media as ‘involving more than one form of public communication’, and provides the following example: ‘Their advertising campaign includes cross-media coverage on television, radio, newspapers, and the internet’. The same dictionary also explains that the verb cross means ‘to go across from one side of something to the other’. The action involves crossing some sort of existing or imaginary line, for example crossing a border, in the context of media production between different media.

However, there are many people in the media industries who use the term cross-media interchangeably with transmedia. A quick search on Google reveals a multitude of usages and applications of the term, including amongst others: anything done across more than one platform; a synonym for transmedia, and the marketing practice of using multiple channels to reach consumers. Cross-media simply means ‘across media’, and as such presupposes the presence of at least two media.

In the case of the Nature Mage project it seems that this prerequisite is met since several media are present: the adapted[1] texts in two media (printed book and Kindle e-book accessible on an e-reader); the iBook, accessible via iPad; the fan-artist website and linked social media on the Internet, accessed via any web-enabled device; and an eventual printed version of the book enhanced with augmented reality to allow readers access to the same kinds of multimedia content of the website and digital book through their smartphones.

However, the high levels of media convergence that characterise the current era seem to threat any attempt at a simple, neat taxonomisation of media texts. Let us see why. The source book and e-book are indeed accessed through different media, but the e-book is nothing less than a remediation (Bolter and Grusin ref) of the printed book, adding little to it other than the experience of reading using a different device[2].

On the other hand, both the Kindle e-book and the iBook can be accessed using the same device, an iPad tablet (thanks to Kindle’s cross-device functionality), or a Mac computer. Both computers and the newest type of wi-fi enabled tablets, smartphones or even smart TVs can be used to access websites, e-books and some types of enhanced books. Frequently the only barrier to ‘universal’ access to digital content is the industrial strategy of placing content in silos and seeking exclusive access to content by specific devices[3].

Indeed it is not simply straightforward to define whether a project is in fact cross-media. Does it need to cross from one medium to another? And what constitutes a medium in this era of convergence? Is it enough to jump from one platform to another? Is there any point in considering devices? In fact, what is the difference between these terms? Whatever one thinks, these concepts are much harder to grasp now than a few decades ago, where different media seemed to be fairly well separated in a clear-cut manner, one in which specific media aligned unambiguously with specific platforms and devices with little or no overlap.

[1] Following Linda Hutcheon’s (ref) suggestion here I use the term ‘adapted’ text (in some instances source text will also be used), rather than original. As we will explore later, this stance is derived from intertextuality theory, which proposes that any text is influenced by a series of inter-related texts that antecede it, in wide and long chains of influence that ultimately – and only possible hypothetically if they could be tracked back – would lead to cultural production at the very early stages of the origins of mankind.

[2] Not that this is insignificant, it may well allow for very different experiences for some readers, but formally the two are still very similar, equivalent reproductions using a different technology. In fact one could say they are both copies of the Word version of the story originally used by the author.

[3] The strategies employed by Apple, where for example applications developed with its operating system have to be authorized by Apple, and can in some cases only be read on Apple devices, are probably the most appropriate illustration.


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