Transmedia storytelling is a term used to describe an interactive story that exists on multiple platforms. The narrative is complemented by a photo gallery, a game, a movie, or all of the above. Often transmedia storytelling includes community building and gamification. (Gamification is the process of adding game mechanics to an activity to influence user behaviour.) The purpose of video, audio, and gaming elements is bring a story world to life. No longer are our imaginations the sole place we can explore these story worlds.
Some media experts think that transmedia is the next big trend in publishing. One example comes from writer and transmedia expert, Alison Norrington. She spoke at the 2010 TEDxTransmedia conference about how publishers and authors should develop transmedia stories so that their characters can exist online. Fans can then engage with these characters and develop an online community. Transmedia projects can also encourage fans to send in their own content further developing the story world.
We are always plugged in to at least one online technology–be it a phone, the internet, a movie, or all three at once. Multitasking throughout our work days is the norm. So why not transplant reading to these online communities and multimedia platforms?
Transmedia Story Stream built by KazapMe and PubSoft is a model that promises to do all of this with HTML5 by connecting the reader directly to the author and to the rest of the fans via an online community. That is something that even web giant Amazon has not been able to accomplish even with the recent purchase of GoodReads. It sounds promising but does Transmedia Story Stream have a viable business model to make this happen? Let us explore.
Why Transmedia could be the next big thing in publishing
Self-dubbed as the Zynga of ebooks, Transmedia is currently crowdfunding to begin its alpha testing stage. As such, it only has a basic demo interface available. I will use examples of other transmedia publishing to illustrate where transmedia functions well for both fans and authors.
Transmedia stories are built on the premise of keeping us engaged longer with our beloved fictional characters and their story worlds. Once we finish reading the last page of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, do we want the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, to fade away from our minds? No. As fans, we want to read, see and hear more about Lisbeth and the quasi-real world she lives in.
Transmedia is not a new concept for television series. The shows True Blood and How I Met Your Mother have created blogs for some of their characters. True Blood’s Jessica Hamby and Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother fame each have their own blogs where the televised storyline continues online via a person hired to write and respond to fans as Jessica or Barney. Engagement happens as though the character was real. These blogs offer the inside scoop (fictional or not). Books and magazines can also engage in this model.
Transmedia as an alternative platform to epub
For Transmedia Story Stream to become a successful publishing model, it needs to make reader experience at the forefront of its priorities. Our reading habits are evolving. New online models must accommodate that fact and revolutionize what we currently have—poor quality epub files.
Transmedia Story Stream offers ways for readers to learn more about the story via videos, blogs, and casual games. Gamification is incorporated through the use of badges, progress bars, and rewards for completing games and finishing books. These elements are shared online with the Transmedia Story Stream community. In this sense, Transmedia Story Stream fulfills its promise as the Zynga of ebooks. Zynga has been particularly successful at encouraging greater game play due to the visibility of a player’s scores.
A publication that operates well using transmedia is LEGO Club Magazine. Designed for children, the publication has games, videos, puzzles, and comics mixed into one online interactive magazine. The stories translate from the page into the physical building blocks to the animated movies. This works especially well for today’s children because they have grown up using multimedia reading platforms made by LeapFrog or VTech. If Transmedia Story Stream can ensure their platform enhances reading like has LEGO enhances their products then they have something here. Each story in Transmedia Story Stream needs to promote the platform itself.
Another example of transmedia publications comes from Guitar Interactive Magazine. The magazine uses transmedia to allow readers to read, listen, and watch video of the content. Artists are featured in videos of them playing guitar. Video interviews are interspersed with textual interviews. Fans can also comment on features directly in the magazine. This model is easily monetized because the advertisers have a specific audience with a multimedia platform to display video advertisements. Want a strategy to promote increased sales dollars for online publications? Try a platform that allows video ads.
Both LEGO Club Magazine and Guitar Interactive Magazine have single publishers behind the content. Transmedia Story Stream is different because it is a platform for authors. It is somewhat like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, which is a tough competitor to take on.
Transmedia Story Stream seems to be bargaining on the fact that it offers an alternative for the non-web savvy author who does not know how to create ebooks or how to set up and manage online fan communities. On Transmedia Story Stream, uploading text, images, and video is simple. No knowledge of HTML5 is needed. This aspect of Transmedia Story Stream is a great incentive for authors to join, but it is it enough? Maybe not.
The missing link: who will pay for the multimedia elements?
Uploading the content is easy, but that is the final step in a long process. What about the development and production costs for the transmedia products?
Transmedia Story Stream’s business model is set up as a network where readers can come to find interactive stories. However, the model does not provide services to an author that a traditional publisher offers such as editorial or marketing services. Furthermore, Transmedia Story Stream does not provide grants or loans for the authors to create the multimedia elements that make the difference between a PDF and a transmedia product.
The Transmedia Story Stream team assumes that the author will front these costs. This could be a mistake. Authors who are seeking online communities likely cannot afford to pay to develop these products. Writing a novel in one’s spare time is one thing but asking the author to also produce audio or video clips is another beast altogether. Transmedia Story Stream could have set up the platform to allow fans to submit material, but that is not an option. As Norrington talks about in her speech, the co-creation of material is a key element to transmedia.
This brings me to the second most important question: What unique service is Transmedia Story Stream providing to the author? They provide a platform with the potential for an engaging community built on gamification elements. Is this enough to entice authors? Maybe, but if an author has to front the costs for writing and producing the transmedia content then why would she not host the content on her own website so she retains 100% of the profits? Transmedia Story Stream has a $120 yearly membership fee and they also take 5% to 25% of the revenue. For authors to buy into this, Transmedia Story Stream has to provide more services for them. If an author has the know-how to produce and edit video clips then she likely has the know-how or determination to learn how to set up a website with an interactive element too.
Marketing and advertising in Transmedia Story Stream
Transmedia Story Stream allows authors to set up micropayment options, subscriptions, single-product advertising, and in-story sponsors. These are great tools but without a publicist or marketing specialist to help authors, I remain skeptical that authors can take advantage of these tools. How many authors know how to set up a meeting with advertisers? Hiring a literary agent could be the key to success for Transmedia Story Stream authors. Of course, an agent requires an additional fee.
The financial viability of Transmedia Story Stream
If Transmedia Story Stream makes its financial goal, where will the next stage of funding come from? Can they monetize this model? Yes, if they can prove to advertisers that the ability to advertise directly in transmedia stories is valuable. It could be extremely valuable particularly if Transmedia Story Stream collects data on its users.
It is important to note that for the initial alpha stage of testing associated with this first round of crowdfunding, Transmedia Story Stream is only making “mono” story worlds a reality. These “mono” stories cannot have audio or video elements, but they can have puzzle word searches and photo add-ons as well as automated emails sent to fans from the fictional characters. The badges are also available.
Founder and CEO Karen Snyder has not revealed a timeline for the fully functional website. This means that for the foreseeable future, Transmedia Story Stream authors will not have access to the full transmedia options. This may hamper their ability to entice advertisers who cannot supply video advertisements within the stories.
The verdict for Transmedia Story Stream’s business model
Transmedia Story Stream is an innovative model that addresses the current epub problems of an ugly design with no capabilities for multimedia elements or an connected online community.
However, Transmedia Story Stream needs to adopt the some of the mindset of a publisher. Publishers understand that the success of its authors mean the success of the company. Providing editorial and/or marketing services to the authors would increase their chances of attracting advertisers as well as an audience that would be willing to pay for the content. Providing the opportunity for fan-created material would also increase the likelihood of a vibrant community of fans that will keep coming back to the website. Fans need to feel invested and recognized in the community.
Yes, Transmedia Story Stream provides enticing perks for readers, but it does not provide enough services to its authors. Without authors, there are no stories and there is no community. When the self-publishing giant Amazon is your competitor, providing unique services for authors and an engaging community for readers are the keys to success.
Good luck, Transmedia Story Stream. It’s a wild world out there right now.
The Transmedia Story Stream press release.
Transmedia Story Stream founder and CEO Karen Snyder’s transmedia series, The Elements Club.
Alison Norrington’s interview with TEDxTransmedia
“I am a believer that our opera now lives in all of these media possibilities we have. This allows our viewers, our audience no longer to be simple consumers on the one-way road of feedings associated with traditional media types, but active protagonists engaging with the worlds we create.” — Stephen Dinehart at TEDxTransmedia.
(That quote was said four years ago but today, it rings truer than ever.)