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The need for publishers to engage with ‘story’

Transmedia in publishing is a slow starter.  There are a series of ‘what ifs’ to consider and to encourage publishers to deliver across a series of platforms other than book is asking them to take new risks (and is also taking them to fragmented places where the marketing department usually hang out  – online, events, games, teasers).

To encourage writers, who currently write with book in mind, to write in new ways for new platforms is going to take time, experimentation and mentoring.  Then, not every book will suit a transmedia structure and not all authors and readers will want that anyway!  So, for those of you who are categorically not interested in ‘story’ from publishers in any other way than on a page – look away now…. 

Hopefully an interested audience remains and, judging by the response of publishers that I’ve interviewed and consulted to about transmedia publishing, there will be.

Personally, I consider transmedia publishing with book as the primary platform is a great means of introducing fragmented, engaging stories to genres that perhaps aren’t so tech centric – such as chick lit, self-help, and ‘how to’ guides.  Book is an age-old familiar product and if the primary story is well written, transmedia elements can be woven into the strategy and architecture as part of the narrative with the aim of raising enough curiosity to compel readers to ‘click’, ‘scroll’ on other devices and to recognise fragments in their daily online networking sites (Facebook games, emails to inboxes), even to generate their own content or attend live events to add value to the storyworld.


Level 26 was published by Dutton Press last year and was written as a ‘digi-novel’ by Anthony E. Zuiker, the creator of CSI. The main platform other than book is at, where the website is an interactive extension of the book series “Level 26,” and the two combine to form a “digi-novel,” a multi-platform experience that moves the reader from passages in the books to videos and interactive content on the Level 26 website.

Cathy’s Book, by Perseus, is one of the most discussed transmedia books within publishing circles and its success was partly due, I believe, to the way that it reached out to its target audience (which was predominantly teens who live online!):

– tone of story, (teenage girl asking teenage girls for help)

– relevance of platforms (iPhone app and iTunes audio download)

– roused a large population of user-generated content on Flickr as girls uploaded their own drawings/images

– The book itself includes an evidence packet filled with letters, phone numbers, pictures, and birth certificates, as well as doodles and notes written by Cathy in the page margins.

In true transmedia style Cathy’s Book utilised potential exposure and viral spread by agreeing to include references to the CoverGirl makeup line in exchange for advertising space on the Web site (The references were deleted in the novel’s paperback version).

Media Partners:

There’s no doubt that fragmenting across platforms cuts into budgets but financing an experimental transmedia property can be eased by collaborating with media partners that are already engaging with audiences online.   Taking the concept of ‘book’ as a portal into a multi-platform environment extends the storyworld and exposure for both partners (and will also extend brand by competing for ‘the eyeballs’ in new ways for both parties too).

It’s still early days and whilst publishers are beginning to receive content written for transmedia, in terms of cross-disciplinary projects, I’ve found that the publishing industry as a ‘content provider’ remains one of the least equipped to make the leap to digital.  The bottom line is that ad agencies are using ‘story’ in far more innovative ways than publishers are able to, and with alarming velocity and success.  To date, transmedia has mostly been funded by corporate marketing and advertising budgets, but as brands now realise the potential of engaging consumers with ‘story’ a slow shift toward R&D funding has emerged – which is fabulous for content creators and transmedia writers – and a wake up call for publishing!

Producers are building the costs of creating a transmedia plan into production budgets rather than leaving it an as afterthought paid for by the marketing division, but to truly seed and embed a transmedia rollout means to integrate and weave these ideas from the outset.  Publishers need writers to write for transmedia!

Ad Agencies & Transmedia:

Here are some examples of advertising agencies that are adopting transmedia to compliment and drive their campaigns:

Storyworldwide claim that “everything you knew about advertising is BS – Before Story” and state that they “understand that advertising-as-interruption is over” and claim to “connect brands to customers by telling engaging and entertaining stories that audiences actually want to hear.”


Their Agent Provocateur campaign of 2007 launched a site that explored the possibilities of video and storytelling to create an “engaging website that generated return visit after return visit and built a series of exquisite multi-part video stories where two ingénues entered the glamorous and seductive world of a Hollywood mansion and had a lost weekend in a Victorian manor house.”

The campaign was supported by a series of transmedia initiatives that deepened customer relationships (in the hope of turning browsers into buyers), embracing social networking – using Facebook to further explore the lives of the characters from videos.  They went on to use Flickr as a platform to host a competition to design the front cover of erotic novels following their exploits.  These platforms and calls-to-action gave users the opportunity to interact with the brand more deeply and begin to make it personal.

To support the global launch of Calvin Klein’s new youth lifestyle brand, ckIN2U, Story Worldwide was asked to create a comprehensive digital experience that would engage the target audience. Calvin Klein brand had insisted that this campaign would be an interactive expression of the core brandethos, which was ‘technosexuality’ and ‘connection without commitment’ – terms coined by ck.

The Call To Action for ckIN2U was simple.  A question.  Storyworldwide asked  consumers a question that everyone has an answer to: What are you IN2? To support the concept, Storyworldwide created a two-tiered digital programme:

– It began with a global film contest launched in 15 countries, with all participation, viewing and voting occurring online.

– To bring the community together, Storyworldwide then created a global, data-driven brand and social connection site ‘experience’.  Through a highly visual and interactive display, users created profiles revealing what they were IN2, and searched keywords to connect to others IN2 the same things. Personal inboxes allowed one-on-one private messaging to spawn truly connected social experiences.

Another example is Big Spaceship and the transmedia strategy to promote and enhance Sony Pictures’ latest thriller, The Stepfather.

Big Spaceship locked into the movie’s sense of suspense and developed a game for Sony whereby the audience stepped into the main character’s inquisitive shoes.  The storyline follows Michael Harding’s unshakable intuition that his soon-to-be stepfather, David Harris, is up to no good and the game lets you trace the Harding home for clues. But you’ve got to be quick… David is on his way home. And he won’t be happy if he catches you snooping around his things.


It has been reported that the overall objectives and aims of integrating a transmedia approach to advertising is to:

– create brand awareness amongst target audiences

– create a connection between consumer and brand

– allow consumers to participate in a deeper brand experience (both on and offline)

– allow consumers to express, explore and connect to others in the brand community

– build a global database to create a continued ‘lifetime’ relationship with brand users

Every publisher wants to create a connection between the consumer and their brand, to allow deep brand experiences and build a global database (previously the work of the marketing department), but to translate other elements of this into a publishing model:

– create brand awareness amongst target audiences – whilst readers don’t care who the publisher is, to create this type of publishing brand, synonymous with ace experiences will eventually build expectation and loyalty.  Think Disney – nobody cares that it’s Disney, but they are now known for fabulous animation and gripping stories!

– allow consumers to express, explore and connect to others in the brand community – deeper engagement with story and wider opportunities to heighten a storyworld experience is paramount in allowings readers/audience to comment and engage – ‘be’ the character, ‘live’ the story!

If publishers don’t step up and use their product as a primary platform for enhanced experiences then they will most definitely miss their golden opportunity as gaming companies, ad agencies and platform providers are already fragmenting and diversifying – using ‘story’ as their tool to drive audience/readers to their products.

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