“We need to think about containers as an option, not the starting point.”
—Context first, Brian O’Leary
It’s been a while since I’ve had time to engage with the transmedia community, much less blog about anything happening in those circles, but I have noticed it’s getting more mainstream attention with each passing month, sometimes actually using the term “transmedia,” but more often simply referencing its fundamental principles of designing an immersive experience.
I alluded to it briefly in my post from a couple of weeks ago, It’s the CONTENT, Stupid! (And the Community.), noting how the ebook aficionados once again were missing the big picture, this time in reference to Pottermore, a nuance Jeff Gomez, the godfather of transmedia storytelling, picked up on:
In today’s interconnected world, our attention flows from our computer screens to our mobile screens to our TV screens without our giving such activity a second thought. The problem has been that the stories we enjoy don’t do that; they don’t behave the way we’ve come to need them to behave.
Two recent articles, completely unrelated to transmedia (on the surface), have also picked up on the value of immersion, specifically noting that more engaged users are more profitable users.
First, Ken Doctor, on maximizing engaged users on the web:
Don’t tell me how many customers you have; tell me how much money you are making on each of them… Would you rather have the [NY] Times’ $170 million in digital revenues or HuffPo’s $30 million?
Second, Erica Ogg, on maximizing engaged users in mobile apps:
More and more apps “are becoming vehicles for constant engagement, cloud connectivity and reusable utilities,” said Scott Schwarzhoff, vice president of marketing for Appcelerator… These coming improvements to iOS–scheduled to arrive sometime this fall–are “the key” to developers’ evolving way of looking at apps, said Schwarzhoff. Because, he says, “getting new users off the App Store is kind of a pain and kind of expensive.” Many developers are “counting on these new tools to keep their audience engaged.”
Magazine publishers have long understood the value of keeping an existing customer vs. acquiring a new one, and many have slowly evolved their multi-platform approaches over the years, expanding their brands into emedia, ecommerce and live and virtual events offerings that go beyond simply repurposing print material or amassing “eyeballs” in pursuit of fickle advertising revenues, in favor of maximizing the lifetime value of each customer they have. In this regard, from The Atlantic to Writer’s Digest, and many other brands in between, the experimentation and innovation on the magazine side far exceeds that of their book publishing counterparts.
Book publishers, on the other hand, have traditionally either focused on “digital” as a secondary medium, or worse, not even as a distinct medium at all, simply a fascimile or marketing channel for their print products. In doing so, they’ve effectively positioned themselves for easier disintermediation, being seen as container manufacturers instead of content curators and community organizers.
eg: There are notably few examples of trade book publishers that can effectively move readers from one popular author’s books to lesser known authors in their stable without the help of an intermediary or three, and most are now facing direct competition from those same intermediaries for all of those authors’ works.
Brian O’Leary’s Context first essay is a must-read for everyone in the publishing business, traditional and new media:
We need to think about containers as an option, not the starting point. Further, we must start to open up access, making it possible for readers to discover and consume our content within and across digital realms. Without a shift in mindset, we are vulnerable to a range of current and future disruptive entrants. Containers limit how we think about our audiences. In stripping context, they also limit how audiences find our content.
Emphasis is mine there, but it’s ultimately O’Leary’s core point and bears repeating: Containers limit how we think about our audiences.
Containers also limit how our audiences discover, consume, engage and share our content, too.
Plain and simple, publishers who see themselves as primarily being in the book business, print or digital, are limiting their viability, profitability and longevity.
Last Fall, I noted that my ideal publisher of the 21st Century would fully embrace transmedia development principles:
…every story would go through an organic transmedia development process BEFORE acquisition to identify other appropriate media, either for production or format licensing, including film/tv, video/computer games, interactive apps, T/CCGs, online education, merchandising, etc. Some acquisitions would be made without the expectation of a physical book being a factor.
In the 21st Century, the container is a secondary concern, dictated by the kind of content being curated, and most importantly, by the needs of the community for which it’s meant to serve. Anything less is a missed opportunity, and a disservice to all involved.
[Image: “my other hobby i” by Laenulfean, via Flickr.]