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, 

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

……

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.

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

……

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

……

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

……

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.