Frankfurt may still be a rights fair, but it’s trying to change. Change, however, rarely comes quickly or easily. StoryDrive, one of the newly launched programs at the fair intended to beef up the show’s digital offerings, was pitched by organizers as a series of panels that would expound on storytelling in the digital era. But with an anemic turnout Wednesday morning to two of the program's inaugural panels, there may still be kinks to be worked out in the programming.
At a panel billed as one about transmedia storytelling, BBC senior producer Adam Khwaja walked the audience through the online development of a property that he admitted, at the outset, was not a true transmedia property. Khwaja discussed the Web site the BBC built around one of its popular brands, Tracy Beaker. But, insofar as Tracy Beaker was not conceived over multiple platforms like other transmedia properties such as The Amanda Project or The 39 Clues, the panel was more about the success the BBC had in building a site to bolster a property that was adapted from print into a successful TV show.
Khwaja highlighted some of the site’s stickiest features—interactive games (some level-based), video clips featuring the author of the series, and downloadable swag (Tracy Beaker-stamped letterhead)—and shared impressive traffic stats indicating that, at its peak, the site drew 450,000 unique users per week.
But what of the Tracy Beaker tale translates for publishers? Although Khwaja’s presentation indicated that a strong Web site with compelling interactive features can draw hits and build a brand, the demonstration didn’t loop directly back to book publishing. Should publishers invest serious dollars and labor—Khwaja said the site took seven to eight months to create with a team of five to six people working on it—in building Web sites around their most popular print brands? Of more interest to book types is transmedia storytelling, since that represents an area where publishers can build a property from the ground up, crafting a story that weaves interactive elements throughout.
At a second StoryDrive panel, with an even smaller turnout, some of the travails of the music industry were laid out. At “Beyond Music: Evolution In Progress – Rapidshare or Rapid Change,” a founder of a German indie record label and a rep from South By Southwest discussed some of the strains that continue to plague the music business. Mirko Whittfield from SXSW said that while touring (i.e. “events”) has been touted as the thing which is saving the industry—that artists can now make money on the road making up for what they’re losing in actual record sales—it “isn’t going to rescue everything.” Both he and Christof Ellinghaus, founder and owner of Germany’s City Slang Records, said that in fact, this business is becoming almost too competitive. With so many bands coming on the scene and flooding the market with content, the ability to maintain a fan base that will come out to see live shows has gotten more difficult. In the indie music scene, Ellinghaus noted, a number of bands that drew buzz with early albums are now finding it difficult to fill venues as they tour for second and third albums.
This panel, again, didn’t ultimately offer a takeaway for those in publishing, although it didn't support arguments by some that authors can significantly augment writing income by joining a speakers bureau. However, both Whitfield and Ellinghaus emphasized the need to, as Whitfield put it, “clean up” copyright. In their industry, control of the content has been completely wrested from the music labels and, as they both see it, something needs to be done about the fact that the technology companies are now the only ones profiting from the sale of music by moving their devices.