Simone Murray (2012), elucidates the pivotal role of industries in the material production of film adaptations. Her model is particularly useful in that it shows how cultural capital – in her example literary prizes and international book sales – form a basis for commercial decision-making’. Murray also proposes that the ‘film-ability’ of a literary manuscript (its potential to be adapted as a film) often dictates whether publishers select it. The publishing and film industries often operate in tandem, in interconnected circuits of cultural production that influence each other.Professor Alexis Weedon, who is leading the UNESCO-sponsored project ‘Crossing Media Boundaries: New Media Forms of the Book’[ii], defends that useful historical communication models, such as that of Robert Darnton (1982), ‘need updating in the light of new research which maps the overlap of the communication circuits in literary production and other forms of storytelling including plays, radio, film and digital book’. In other words, traditionally separate media industries are increasingly converging and influencing each other.
I believe that publishers will increasingly be acting as cross-media and transmedia agents for authors; not just using existing properties to publish print and e-books, but developing and nurturing new properties for which they will hope to hold all the rights jointly with authors. This is part of a wider discussion on what is the ‘valued added’ by publishers in the current publishing climate. See this article for a recent discussion about ‘what is the added value of a publishing house in these times?’: http://www.futurebook.net/content/story-nobody-tells
Two weeks ago, at the latest Bookseller Children’s Conference, Eric Huang, Director, New Business & IP Acquisitions at Penguin Books, touched on this new role for publishers. In his insightful and thought-provoking presentation he explained the ways in which Penguin look at potential ideas / manuscripts from authors (often new emerging talents) with ‘transmedia’ (or cross-media if you prefer) lenses: ideas for new books, new stories and characters are analysed also taking into consideration how well they would work across other media. Besides books (whether printed, e-book, enhanced books, etc.), they are also assessed on how well they’d work as a cartoon on TV, a toy, or a game. Actually, many stories start to go public through apps / games.
The idea is that the potential of a story / idea is evaluated with regards to its potential for adapted versions in other media, as games, as toys, and so on. Often this means that writers have to go back to the drawing board and re-design parts of the stories or story universes. For example, one of the ideas that Eric showed would have different stories that always take place in different environments. For TV production this makes the brand / IP less attractive as the production costs for lots of different backgrounds could be very high. In another example Eric revealed how a toy manufacturer explained that a certain story aimed at young boys wasn’t gender-specific enough: it needed to be more clearly ‘pink’, or ‘blue’, perhaps with the addition of cars to the story. As it involved stories about different types of foods (to help kids eat during their meals), it had cutlery, which made it plausible for the girls’ toy market – at that age you need the brand to be very distinguishable in gender terms.
Well, this won’t be news for many people, but it provides very important insight that is food for thought for many long discussions. Eric also said that at the end of the day these adaptation, cross-platform needs had to be balanced with the power of the authors, with the richness of the stories they create. Artistic creativity ought to be paramount. Easier said than done.
At a time when media industries converge and overlap; when books turn into films, which turn into toys, which turn into games; when games create brands that become the best-selling books for children (e.g. Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters); when the children’s media universe is increasingly a web of content in which wherever stories / brands start, they end up across virtually all media / platforms, the adaptability or the (brace yourself for a long, ugly word) transmediability (transmedia ability) of a story is increasingly becoming a factor in publishers’ decisions when it comes to selecting new ideas / manuscripts. The adaptable value (i.e. can be adapted into other media) of a story is becoming paramount.
Of course this does not mean that less adaptable stories will end, but it raises questions about creativity and authorship. Whether positive or negative – this can only be defined at a personal level, and there will certainly be lots of arguments about this – it is important to be aware of how different media industries operate in tandem. There have always been ‘external’ or industry-specific pressures on creativity, for example classic fresco painters would have to please their wealthy sponsors, and perhaps we have a tendency towards keeping somewhat ‘romantic’ views of authorship and creativity (the writer in the isolated log cabin feeling inspired by a beautiful lake or a bottle of whisky!).
The trick for writers, and other media producers is to create in a ‘transmedia’ way from the onset, and generate ideas that cut across industry silos. But there’s always room for more print-only wonderful books that no one adapts to the screen! Perhaps the most important is that writers and creatives feel good with what they’re creating, and do not simply place monetisation / expansion factors ahead of creative satisfaction, and produce stories that are able to enchant us all?
Have any thoughts? Please share them!
Want to read more? If you’re interested I can send you the references