The term "publishing" has become a charged word. And it's more than just semantics. To those in the traditional publishing industry—we found ourselves having to say "traditional publishing" often at South by Southwest Interactive's whirl of seminars, panels, and meetups—a publisher is a company that publishes books. But this word has quickly expanded to include more than just books, and the companies that produce books. Does it matter? It matters very much. That traditional publishers now publish for readers who consider themselves publishers is a paradigm shift and, whether those in the traditional publishing space realize it or not, it is changing the way people see the industry.
Measuring Social Media
Given the buzzy-ness of the term "social media"—and that it seems to be the lynchpin of social marketing, selling everything from socks to movies to, yes, books—a number of panels at SXSWi were dedicated to figuring out how to measure the effectiveness of different social media outreach programs. So you're on Twitter and you have a Facebook fan page, but what are those tweets and Facebook friends actually doing for you? Are you enhancing your brand? Are they buying your books? Thinking about buying your books? Telling friends to buy your books? One company trying to lift the veil on the effectiveness of social media, especially for content companies, is New York's SocialFlow (socialflow.com). The company provides analytics on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz—current clients include the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and Knopf is in talks to hire the firm. What should you tweet? When should you tweet? What should you push out on your Facebook page? SocialFlow is looking to answer those questions.
What Is Transmedia, and Should I Care?
One of the most fascinating elements of SXSWi is seeing how other industries are looking at new modes of storytelling, both to sell their products and to deliver their products. In "traditional publishing," there has been some dabbling in transmedia storytelling. Back in 2007, Canongate launched an alternate reality game to draw readers into Steven Hall's twist-laden thriller, The Raw Shark Texts, about a man who lost his memory and who is led down a postmodern rabbit hole. Lisa Holton's company, Fourth Story Media, was founded specifically to create transmedia projects for (and with) publishers, and launched the print-and-Web series the Amanda Project (about a missing girl). And Scholastic also more-than-dabbled with its multiplatform book-Web-game, the 39 Clues. At a panel called "Transmedia: Transmonetisation," British IP lawyers Alex Chapman and James Kay discussed potential ways developers can work with companies on monetizing their games. One inexpensive way to build a transmedia element into a story or around a story (as a promotional tool), they said, is by allowing the developer to keep the rights to his coding structure, rather than paying the full cost of the product (Other, more complicated, options have to do with profit-sharing models instead of a standard fee.)
At a panel on the dangers of transmedia projects, called "Hoax or Transmedia? The Ethics of Pervasive Fiction," game designer Andrea Phillips (deusexmachinatio.com) offered an insightful peek into the history of transmedia by way of a talk about the dangers—legal and otherwise—of too effectively tricking your audience. Phillips, who worked on Running Press's transmedia YA series Cathy's Book, talked about legal issues companies have run into by running marketing campaigns that frightened or upset consumers. (Phillips herself ran into a snag on a campaign she worked on for the Universal disaster film 2012, upsetting NASA for marketing materials featuring junk science that the agency thought described a scenario that it believed could happen.) Aside from the legal takeaway, Phillips zeroed in on many of the touchstones of what transmedia actually is, namely a form of storytelling that, as she put it, "blurs the lines between reality and fiction" and ultimately "tries to tell stories that feel true." Of course tricking readers/players too effectively, aside from bringing a lawsuit, can also simply cause a storyteller to lose its audience.