BOOKS 3.0: Cross-media Adaptation and Audience Involvement (part 5 of 7) Transmedia, Cross-media, Adaptations? Changing Media, Shifting Definitions – Hybrid Converging Formats

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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

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The times for easy classification or taxonomies of media artefacts are gone. Increasingly what we see are overlapping forms in a media universe where convergence and hybrid forms abound, and where previously separated media and formats borrow from each other’s language, aesthetics and conventions. Let us think for a moment about book publishing and the move towards digital books, and more widely towards digital forms of storytelling. Printed books can be easily remediated into digital media as e-books. But authors and publishers are going a lot further than that, reaching a point where it is not clear whether we are faced with a ‘book’, or simply a story told in some other new way. We now hear about ‘enhanced’ books, for example digital books that not only contain text and illustrations, but also make more use of computational capacities, adding perhaps hyperlinks, video, game-like features, and other features. There are also ‘interactive books’, for example picture books for children on the iPad, whereby the reader can tap into objects to hear sounds, watch animations, unravel the story further, and so on. Some studies have shown that the number of ‘interactive’ features is such that they distract from the actual narrative (ref – Sesame Workshop). Then we also have interactive graphic novels, where the reader’s (or user’s) decisions reflect on different narrative paths, not too dissimilarly to what has been done long ago with ‘choose your adventure’ books. Some industry commentators (ref-DBW) have even considered certain games, such as The Walking Dead, for the iPad, as examples of the direction publishers should move in harnessing digital media to tell stories. The game contains a branching narrative decided by the player, and although it is classed as a game, it contains long periods where the ‘player’ is more of a watcher, or a reader, with some level of control over dialogue, but nonetheless pretty much directed towards a pre-defined narrative path.

So where does book stop and game start? Where do you draw the line between e-book and enhanced book? How different is an interactive book and an app that likewise tells a story? And what terms can we use or coin to refer to the myriad of possibilities? There is a context where problems around terminology often come to live in a clear way: the exercise of designing a research interview about reading and digital media, to be administered to the public. The challenge: how can one measure current levels of ‘digital’ reading across the myriad of formats? Will respondents consider enhanced books as, well, books or even reading? What about apps and games, do they feel some of these are like digital books? Do they care whether a story is told through a more or less recognised book format or altogether another format? It is hard enough to make sense of all the terms and taxonomies used within academia and the industry, never mind come up with terms in a questionnaire to understand general habits and perceptions.

Getting back to the Nature Mage project, and to the central question that was being discussed: is the project of bringing the story to life through an iBook an example of cross-media adaptation?

Is an iBook simply a ‘enhanced’ version of an e-book? A ‘normal’ e-book and a printed book are very similar, not so obviously when it comes to reading experience, but certainly in terms of content – both contain text, and in the case of Nature Mage, actually the same text, and the same cover. But an iBook integrates multiple modes, from text, to sound, to moving image, to 3D objects and even dynamic features (widgets) produced in HTML5. In many ways, an iBook is closer to a multimedia website than to an e-book. But it is presented as an iBook, produced with a software program called iBooks Author, and its visual representation remediates (ref) the format of a book. Even the iBooks menu on an iPad is a representation of a bookshelf where iBooks are exhibited; when you select an iBook, it pops out of the shelf, and as it gets bigger it is possible to see in some detail the edges and curves of the book cover (which remediates a hardback). At the very minimum level, the iBook adaptation is a ‘new media form’ of Nature Mage. It is not the first incarnation of the story on digital media (the e-book already exists), and it may still be read on the same device as the e-book (on a tablet) but it certainly offers a different multimedia and multimodal experience to the reader – or should it be ‘user’?

Linda Hutcheon (2006: xiv) suggests that different media – and ‘genres’ she adds – ‘represent various ways of engaging audiences’:

[Some] are used to tell stories (for example, novels, short stories); others show them (for instance, all performance media); and still others allow us to interact physically and kinaesthetically with them (as in videogames or theme park rides).

The Nature Mage digital media expansion project thus carries the story from a medium that just tells (printed book, e-book), to one where it mixes all three modes: tell, show, and interact (as reader chooses to engage with some parts); and besides these three modes, there is also a fourth one, which could be classed as participatory: the project invites readers and artists to participate in the expansion of the story, thus creating an experience which is in essence different from reading a book.

Hutcheon’s model of three modes of engagement seems to be to a large extent dependent on conceptualising of different modes – and media – as clearly distinct and separate from each other, which works well for older media, but not as much for the ‘new media’ described by Janet Murray and used to describe the UNESCO Chair project which this thesis contributes for. Hutcheon’s model can be intersected with Murray’s notion of deconstruction and reconfiguration of formats, which means that in digital media all three modes can be found simultaneously, or alternatingly. An artefact such as an iBook is capable of being programmed to tell (text), show (videos) and invite interactivity (puzzle game).

The Nature Mage iBook can thus be classed as an adaptation, in fact a cross-media adaptation, insofar as it creates a multimedia and multimodal work that, contrary to the adapted texts, can only be accessed through the use of digital media. But is it more than cross-media? Looking at some definitions of transmedia, it could perhaps be classed as a transmedia adaptation.

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BOOKS 3.0: Cross-media Adaptation and Audience Involvement (part 4 of 7) Transmedia, Cross-media, Adaptations? Changing Media, Shifting Definitions – Medium vs. platform vs. device

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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

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Device seems to be the easiest term to define. An iPad is a device, a TV is a device, a computer is also a device. A device is an electronic gadget, which can be used for one or more purposes. Most modern devices have multi-media capacities, and can be used to access multiple forms of content, from text, to video, to sound, to games, and so on.

A platform is typically used on the media industries to define a group or set of devices that are seen as of the same type, or very similar. This is a bit thornier. TV is considered a platform, mobile is a platform (regardless of type of mobile, or specific device); game console is another kind of platform; print is yet another platform. The problem with this classification is that modern devices fulfil overlapping functions and present access to the same content, which formerly was reserved for a specific medium and associated device or technology. You would read a story in a printed piece of paper (or perhaps a parchment, or a stone); you would watch a film at the cinema, later also on a television; you would listen to the radio on a radio. As Henry Jenkins (ref) explains, nowadays it is hard to find a mobile phone that only makes calls. It is still called a ‘phone’ but for some users it is much more a Walkman, a website device, or a games console, than a phone. And now you can read, listen, watch and even play the same text, on one platform, using one device. Forget simple, forget neat, what we have now is great wavy lines of intersecting and overlapping content. That is why for Jenkins the smartphone is one of the most suitable symbols of media convergence in our societies.

A medium is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as either ‘a substance that something grows in, lives in, or moves through’, or ‘a method or way of expressing something’. Print is considered a medium, cinema is a medium, we often talk of the broadcast media (TV and radio), and also the mass media, which add newspapers to the list of media already mentioned. And then there are the so-called ‘new media’, which as Janet Murray (2011: 8) suggests encompass a range of artefacts made possible thanks to computers, including among other the Internet, videogames, or computer-based animation. Murray suggests it is a blanket term characterised by a vagueness that hides its true meaning. ‘New’ media are not necessarily the newest forms of media around; what they effectively have in common is the fact that they are only possible thanks to computers. Murray suggests instead the use of the term digital media. In fact, she defends that it is productive to think of digital artefacts as parts of a single ‘digital medium, the medium that is created by exploiting the representational power of the computer’. She (Ibid: 9) adds an important point about convergence:

…[F]ormats that we once thought of as fixed and separate, like spoken and written messages, books and games, movies and file cabinets, television and telephones are being deconstructed into their component parts and reconfigured for interactivity.

As deconstruction, merging and remixing take place, we witness the appearance of evermore combinations and formats, many of which can perhaps be described as hybrid converging formats.

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

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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

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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.

BOOKS 3.0: Cross-media Adaptation and Audience Involvement (part 2 of 7) Transmedia, Cross-media, Adaptations? Changing Media, Shifting Definitions – Introduction

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

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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.

BOOKS 3.0: Cross-media Adaptation and Audience Involvement (part 1 of 7) Practice-led Research Project: Nature Mage

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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

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One of the reasons to choose a Professional Doctorate was the fact that it involves practice – indeed, one of the requisites for completion is conducting ‘practice-led research’. The hunt for a partner organisation or individual for a hands-on project resulted in an introduction to a self-published author based in the UK, Duncan Pile, who, in his own words, is writing ‘a trilogy of teen fantasy books set in a magical world’ (ref). The book could be shortly described, with reference to previous works in the fantasy genre, as a meeting of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Nature Mage is the first in the series with the same name, and at the time of writing, two books have been published: Nature Mage, and Nature Servant refs, the first in both Kindle and print format, the second as a Kindle ebook. Both books, and versions, contain an illustrated cover portraying the main character, but no other illustrations.

The goal of this collaboration was to design and eventually produce ‘new media forms’ of one or more of the books in the series. The definition of which ‘media forms’ to use evolved and changed greatly, influenced by considerations such as feasibility (both technical and financial, which are to a certain extent related), commercial potential, and other factors that will be explored and analysed in this study.

Partly due to my background at Dubit, which is in essence a game development studio, the initial plans for the project revolved around working on a game adaptation of the first book. The ultimate goal of the practice-led project was to produce real outputs, ideally in the form of an actual media artefact (e.g. a game), and at the very least some sort of media design document, for example a GDD (game design document). This tied in well with the author’s ambitions to have his stories adapted into film and game. However, realistically it would be difficult to produce a game without having a considerable budget, so there was a move towards thinking of more achievable artefacts[1], without totally dropping the objective of using the research to, at the very least, produce insight about a possible game adaptation that could seed ideas for further development and perhaps funding efforts in the future. The main focus ought to be on one artefact, whilst maintaining wider ambitions across different media, and throughout the project contribute to their design. As it stands these may include the core work towards a digital enhanced book, a digital game (for computer and/or mobile devices), and, in collaboration with a screenwriter researcher, a film adaptation.

The alternative that was next explored was the production of a multimedia, digital book in the iBook format, using the iBooks Author tool freely available from Apple. The digital ‘enhanced’ book would contain different types of content – in a range of formats – based on the source book, and building on it, expanding it through text, images and videos. These different formats of content could include materials such as: maps of locations in the story (possibly dynamic); illustrations of the characters, settings and objects; video animations; author ‘extras’ (interviews, explanations, etc.); branching stories; text providing extra ‘factual’ information about a place or a character; typologies of weapons and spells growing as these appear in the story; and possibly music and sounds. The main story would still be there in text, in a full or abridged version, but the range of other types of content would allow the readers to explore their interests in certain aspects of the story, if they so wish.

From the start there was a desire to involve readers of the Nature Mage series books in discussions and ‘co-creation’ sessions that would guide the production of this new media form of the book. It is envisaged that this will include face-to-face group interviews, online interviews, and the setting up of an online fan community where readers can provide feedback on production ideas, send their own ideas and content (for example, fan art or fan fiction), and rate and comment on each other’s work. It is envisaged that the new content will be produced by both fans, art students and invited artists, although the involvement of the latter may be dependent on the raising of a funding for a production budget, or the use of alternative production agreements such as revenue sharing. This is one of the main challenges in media production.


[1] The discussion around choices and decisions for the adaptation will be explored in greater depth throughout the thesis.

“But what’s int…

“But what’s interesting is people looking at book publishers as content owners or representatives. They’re looking at them in a completely different light now. The challenge is that the content has to be more exciting. On the face of it people think there’s less they can do with written word. But actually I think there are a million and one things you can do. The challenge then comes for publishers to open their eyes to understand that. And I think that is super exciting.”

Penguin’s Nathan Hull: A Globetrotter in Search of Innovation

Linked to the notion I proposed in an earlier post looking at the changing roles of publishers – now often acting more as brand / story ‘nurturers’ across media, and dwelling into the corners of the media and digital universe.

Penguin’s Nathan Hull: A Globetrotter in Search of Innovation

This video quickly hovers above the mural to give you a flavour of its content. It is essentially a visual diagram representation of the project, including thoughts, links to websites, working PDF mock ups, and loads of thoughts and considerations.
Feel free to explore and comment, or even add links to relevant content.

VIDEO: The Nature Mage project mural

The Nature Mage project mural – a visual representation

FirstFrame

It is essentially a visual diagram representation of the project, including thoughts, links to websites, working PDF mock ups, and loads of thoughts and considerations.

Feel free to explore and comment, or even add links to relevant content.

Just click here to access:

A mural diagram of the Nature Mage project

Nature Mage #2 – a little more detail on context and goals

Nature-Servant

I am currently doing a PhD collaborating with the UNESCO Chair project ‘New Media Forms of the Book’, by looking at how books and stories can make the most of new media and the digital sphere, to develop models for audience involvement, cross-platform adaptation and transmedia storytelling. Or at least one of these things!

Supervisor: Prof Alexis Weedon, Research Institute for Media Art and Design, Founder and Editor of Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, published by Sage.

I’ve been interviewing and working with authors, publishers, digital developers, industry leaders, thinkers, innovators, anyone I can learn and think with! To get a picture of what’s happening at the convergence of books, stories, digital and transmedia storytelling! It’s a long and exciting journey, a bit like the quest for the Holy Grail. I hope I’ll get there, and back again… for another journey! As part of this, there is a ‘map’ of ‘new media forms of the book’ being produced as we speak – for a next post, soon.

The PhD involves a strong practical component: in short, I am working with Duncan Pile, a self-published YA fantasy author, to spread his story across digital media, harnessing fan and audience involvement.

We’re creating an online community where readers can send ideas (fan fiction, back stories, parallel stories, artwork, video enactements, etc.) based on the Nature’s Mage third book (to be soon launched, serialised digitally). I will then work with the author to manage the online community, where people can read/see each other’s works and rate / comment, and select the best material for an ‘enhanced’ version of the story mixing the original text with images, parallel stories, author interviews in video, etc. – probably on iBook. The digital experiment will also count with the collaboration of visual arts students that will create illustrations, animations, etc., and creative writing students, who will contribute to the expanding story.

There is finally the intention to produce a printed version of the book, linked to AR, so that the multimedia content present on the community site, or a selection of it, can also be seen on mobile devices when reading a print copy.

Both Duncan and I have bigger ambitions for the story, and would love to explore the production of games and TV / film adaptation. The online community of readers / fans will have special sections to start discussing / informing such adaptations. We have also approached a screenwriter who is interested in attempting to write a film script.

Audience involvement is at heart of project, as well as potentially providing showcasing opportunities for students of creative writing, design and visual arts (illustrators, animators, programmers, etc.).

Nature Mage #1 – project introduction

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Here’s an introduction to the practice-based academic project I’m working on. In short, I’m working with a self-published author on ways to engage creatively with his readers, using serialisation, feedback and co-creation in an online community to experiment with new ways of launching the books and producing digital formats inspired by user-generated content.

This gives you a quick idea of what the project is all about (well, even I have some trouble defining ‘what it’s ALL about’, so good luck! If you can, please leave comments and ideas. I really want to hear other people’s opinions, tips, challenges!

NATURE MAGE

Umbrella project: UNESCO Chair project Crossing Media Boundaries: New Media Forms of the Book”. Co-ordinated by Professor Alexis Weedon, University of Bedfordshire

UNESCO Chair link

Duncan Pile is a self-published author who is writing a fantasy trilogy aimed at young adults. The first two books – Nature Mage and Nature’s Servant – are out on Kindle and print. Now Duncan will be soon be launching Book 3, but in parts,, and initially through Amazon / Kindle.

Duncan’s author page

The books

In the first page of the book Duncan will ask readers to check the NMOnline (Nature Mage Online) website. This is where I come into the story. I’m creating a website / online community / co-creation platform for readers to read, comment, and create stuff linked to, or inspired by, the Nature Mage series. Users will be able to simply explore the content added by other users; leave comments about the books and site content; send their own pieces of story (either looking back at books 1 and 2, or ‘writing the plot’ for the next part of book 3); upload drawings, photos, songs, video re-enactments of the story, or anything else creative to do with Nature Mage! Even a LEGO start-stop animation (genius idea, isn’t it?)

Duncan, the author, will be heavily involved in discussions and replies, and we will also have the collaboration of art and writing students who will also be adding their creative works.

The website / community will probably be built with Ning It’s an online community building tool that’s pretty simple to use, whilst still allowing some customisation, and even programming if you have the skills. It used to be free but now is charged at around £18 / month. Anyone out there who’s tried other good online tools?
We’re also creating some mockups of the website before actually creating it on Ning. I’m using Balsamiq, a really useful, intuitive and complete tool to do website wireframes and working mockups. Yes, working – you use assets (images, buttons, sketches, etc.) to produce different mock pages, and then link them up, as if it were the real thing, but sketchy. I’ll be posting about this separately.

What will we do with the user-generated content? Well, first we have to crack copyright issues… So far, it seems the best option is to use some kind of Creative Commons License (there are many types) where we can use material uploaded by website  users, recognising the producers, but do not own the copyright. It’s more complex than this, have a look in Creative Commons Licenses

The online community is an end in itself, hopefully a site for dialogue and creativity. But we may also use the material – interviews with the author, backstories, alternative plot lines, illustrations, animations, and so on – in a first instance to produce a sort of ‘fan-inspired’ interactive or ‘enhanced book’ where the original narrative can co-exist with the mixing and mashing of readers and contributors to the community. We’re thinking about iBooks, using iBooks Author but also exploring other tools. This tool is free, and looks pretty good in action. Have any experiences to share in this area? Please get in touch!

If you’re a famous Hollywood director, do get in touch, we may consider a motion picture at some stage. Indie documentary maker? We’re available!

I’ll be posting regularly – sort of weekly – with updates. Stay tuned! RSS feed available*

(*Subject to availability; prices from other networks may vary; for full terms and conditions click here) Joking! 🙂