When I was younger, I had a Care Bears book that came with a cassette tape for sing-along songs and a VHS video I could watch while I read (it also came with a cute stuffed Care Bear—Good Luck Bear, who was my favorite Care Bear of all time). This was in the ’80s, long before e-books, tablets, and mobile apps and games. Despite the lack of modern technology, it was still a very successful use of transmedia storytelling.
With this current digital era, transmedia storytelling has a whole new media platform to play with. More and more publishers and authors are creating enhanced e-books and utilizing transmedia to market their brand to readers. It’s still mostly uncharted territory, but as e-books and digital media continue to cement themselves as solid platforms, it’s likely we’ll see a lot more transmedia storytelling in the future.
What is Transmedia?
Transmedia, sometimes called interactive media or multi-platform media, is the use of various media platforms to tell a story. This can be an enhanced e-book—maybe with video links, graphic artwork, audio, games, or apps—and can also cross over into merchandise like toys or clothing.
The use of transmedia is especially popular for children’s books and stories, but it also has its place in the mystery and suspense genre, as well as sci-fi and fantasy. These genres tend be much more open and accessible to cross-platform entertainment outlets.
One of the more popular and well-known uses of transmedia storytelling is The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings is a 1950s epic high fantasy trilogy that has, over the years, expanded into various genres and media platforms. LOTR transmedia has crossed over into platforms such as video games, board games, mobile games, card games, comics, cartoons, films, songs, and internet memes (“One does not simply walk into Mordor,” etc.). There is also merchandise, like official The Lord of the Rings swords—even wedding jewelry made in the likeness of the “one ring to rule them all.” As movies based on the trilogy continue to be made, the success of LOTR transmedia also continues to rise.
Another good example of successful transmedia storytelling is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter crossed numerous genres and platforms—games, films, clothing, merchandise, cookbooks, and even Rowling’s own website, Pottermore. Rowling not only successfully used transmedia storytelling, but she has set a precedent for transmedia publishers and authors that they are still attempting to replicate today, six years after the last Harry Potter book was published.
The Elements Club
Recently, The Elements Club—the world’s first transmedia romance series—was nominated as one of the seven finalists for the GamesBeat 2013 Who’s Got Game Innovation Showdown.
The Elements Club is a romance series set in Victorian London between 1892-1897 and follows the lives of various members as they unlock the power of love and fortune. The Elements Club is developed by Kazap. Kazap is a transmedia production studio focused on developing immersive digital brands with stories that arc across e-books, video games, mobile, and on-demand video platforms.
A quick skim of Kazap’s website shows you just how much effort and care goes into this series—with character interviews, news, videos, and more to give readers and fans a world that is so real, it is practically tangible.
From e-books (ePub and interactive) to casual video games to online episodes, The Elements Club mixes together a dash of cane fighting, a bit of semi-naked gambling, and lots of seductive lip smacking.
What the Transmedia Realm Will Allow Authors to Do
Nowadays, most of us get our news from Twitter or Facebook, or some other social media outlet, because the instant accessibility is lightning fast. We have the entire world virtually at our fingertips, feeding info, opinions, pictures, and stories into our lives. It’s a lot of power to hold in your hands. And as we know from Peter Parker’s uncle, with great power comes great responsibility.
That is to say, if you have any investment in your creative endeavors or your brand—whether as a publisher or an author—you have a responsibility to your audience to create an authentic, worthwhile experience. And you can do this through transmedia storytelling.
As Gianluca Fiorelli says, transmedia storytelling is “a fans-generating machine, because it creates a strong emotional connection with the audience…[and] is the best and most effective way to connect with the new generations of consumers and build a sustainable audience around a brand.”
But it might require a little help, according to Javier Celaya. “Transmedia storytelling most certainly requires teamwork,” says Celaya. As easy as it may be for self-published authors to get their e-book on the market nowadays, transmedia storytelling will require a creative process that, as Celaya says, will be “shared by the author, production team, multimedia platforms, lawyers, etc.” This means redefining the entire life cycle of a book, from creation to distribution to marketing. Which is why publishers need to be innovative and willing to adapt to this new publishing world. Because authors—especially transmedia authors—will surely benefit from the experience and history of success that publishers have.
And just as Tolkien, Rowling, and even The Elements Club romance series have proven, authors and publishers who venture into transmedia storytelling may have a greater chance of connecting with (and keeping) their readers engaged, long after a story ends.