Somethin’ Else are the production company who worked in collaboration with Transworld Publishers on the hugely successful Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality app. The company was involved from the start, helping to work up a proposal for the authors and agent with Transworld before they were given the green light. To date, the bestselling app has had over 15,000 downloads with a RRP of £9.99.
We asked Paul Bennun, Chief Creative Officer at Somethin’ Else to tell us a bit more about the project and give his thoughts on how the creative process of digital publishing is evolving.
TLP: Congratulations on the Magic of Reality app – No1 bestseller! Can you tell us a little bit about how the project came about?
PB: We’ve been developing a great relationship with Random House and Transworld; they’ve got a flexible approach to the potential of interactive media, both commercially and creatively. We’re massive Dawkins fans here too and were dying to get some of our top-drawer ideas out for an interactive book. We jumped at the chance.
TLP: Once you’d established you were going ahead with the project where did you start? Did you start with ‘book’?
PB: We certainly did start with ‘book.’ Like many design companies we have spent many days thinking up how the relationship between writers, readers and literary products could be changed by technologies. We’ve had many of the same blue-sky ideas as everyone, and a few different ones we’re waiting to work on.
In this instance, we wanted to do something simple; something that took the essence of ‘the book,’ but simply and beautifully applied the affordances of the personal touch-screen tablet to it. We didn’t want to mimic a paper-based book, but look to the present and create a digital artefact that brought the author’s words alive. We’re very proud of the user interface and the way the interactive elements work in the book in a way that contributes to the experience.
TLP: Did you have a direct relationship with Richard Dawkins during the production process and if so how did that work?
PB: We did. Producer Trevor Klein is his new best friend. Once we gained his trust (we’d accept only the very best in terms of concept, aesthetics and scientific understanding) it was plain sailing. He was generous, contributing a huge amount to the scientific models and was generally great to work with.
TLP: The project is another successful collaboration between a production company and publisher. How difficult are these partnerships to negotiate – and do they have a future or do you think publishers will start to bring digital expertise in-house or (vice versa) that developers will bring on board editorial arms?
PB: In this instance, the partnership was very easy to create. I don’t think this is a place for one-size-fits-all, as there’s no one thing that’s a ‘digital book’ and never will be. An ePub will always be different between a collaboration between a talented author and a standout design company. Authors aren’t really ‘in-house’ and the best creative and design talent will generally have their own vehicles. I’d expect some digital expertise to be in-house—in fact it already is—and some to remain out-of-house.
TLP: Some publishers have had their fingers burnt when dabbling with the app market – do you have any lessons you could share with them? Do you think there is still potential for publishers in this market?
PB: Yes! This app has been hugely successful. Why would it be the last and not the first of successful authored projects for digital spaces? We believe this one worked because of a combination of good design fundamentals, an appropriate approach to risk and a fantastic book, backed up with integrated marketing. Transworld and the writer obviously made it work; what we brought was a business and creative model that fitted their knowledge and approach, but was iconoclastic with regard to the whole idea of the ‘digital book.’ The result was something that’s in some ways actually quite minimal and absolutely immediately understood by an audience. The most important element from our side was user-centred design and an innovative set of ideas.
TLP: You’ve already done a couple of great immersive experiences with projects like the Papa Sangre app – do you think publishers should be delving deeper into possibilities for their writers here?
PB: Absolutely. Writers create worlds inside heads with words. Interactive platforms are connected, smart, logic driven and used in different ways to paper. They simply have a different set of affordances, and the worlds writers create now have those same affordances. We’re incredibly excited by the potential, but always pragmatic.
Paul Bennun, Chief Creative Officer, www.somethinelse.com
The Making of The Magic of Reality app, by Sophie Holmes, Digital Publishing Manager Transworld