As attendees were learning the details about Borders's bankruptcy filing, O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference was winding down three days of programming with a slate of panels that included a look at the rise of Transmedia storytelling and presented a new generation of online literary ventures that offer a glimpse at the future of reading. Indeed, despite a crowded calendar of digital conferences, this year’s TOC sold out completely attracting 1,400 attendees, and the event’s popularity, utility, and cachet only seemed to grow.
Jeff Gomez, president and CEO of Starlight Runner, and something of an avatar for Transmedia storytelling, spoke about the hybrid process combining editorial, product development, and marketing that extends intellectual properties across multiple media and product platforms. It’s a media strategy whose influence continues to grow in the digital era as big media companies like Disney (think virtually any Disney property) as well as publishers (think Harper’s Amanda Project) create properties in one media, say books, and extend versions of them into film, videogames, websites, and graphic novels as well as onto to digital platforms like apps. It’s a strategy that not only requires careful study of the property and the creation of a master narrative but also embraces social media by either working to produce a committed fan base for the property or reaching out to fans of established properties to add to their extended canon and possible narratives. “We need to get the audience to participate in our story for it be fully realized,” said Gomez.
Both a seminal creator in the Transmedia strategy as well as one of its principal evangelists, Gomez moderated a panel with Flint Dille, a well-known TV and movie writer, popular novelist, and game designer (not to mention being a very funny guy), and Jeremy Bornstein, digital entrepreneur, CTO, and creator of Mongoliad, an unusual online serialized novel created with Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear, a Transmedia property that offers new storytelling techniques and solicits input from readers. Indeed Gomez, who has worked on Transmedia projects with firms like Coca Cola and Disney as well as on properties like Tron and Halo, gave a big shout-out directly to book publishers and authors to get involved in building Transmedia properties, emphasizing that they have validated content—and that publishers are a lot easier to work with than Hollywood studios. “Publishers need to be worried about what happens when all the wood is gone,” Gomez joked, “they need to make sure their storylines are spread out across a variety of platforms, devices, and screens.”
He emphasized that “books get respect; they’re the crazy grandpa that Hollywood executives keep in the basement. Hollywood was born out of books.” Indeed, Dille emphasized that while authors and publishers should focus on creating solid stories for books, they should also realize that “every idea is essentially media agnostic. Everyone from movie studios to game studios can be your partner because everyone’s looking for new revenue streams.”
The panel, “Secrets From the Underground,” featured a slate of startups that use a variety of digital platforms—the web, enhanced e-books, and apps—to bring literary publishing and reading to new readers. Sites like Kyusik Chung’s Discoverreads.com; Travis Albers’ BookGlutton.com; Jurgen Fauth’s Fictionaut.com, and Andy Hunter’s ElectricLiterature.com (also profiled in PW), offer a look at a future of digitally enabled publishing and reading that allows readers to discover new books. Hunter said they launched ElectronicLiterature to challenge the “fear of digital distribution,” and to show that digital publishing was viable and “an opportunity to transmit literary content.” Albers encouraged bigger publishers looking to get involved to “work with a small startup that has the digital skills.” Although buzzwords like “curation” and “discoverability” were flying around the presentation, the panelists were focused on offering a generation of readers at ease with reading on everything from iPads to smartphones new ways to read a variety of literary work, experimental or more conventional, and connect with like-minded readers.