“Transmedia isn’t new; it’s the current iteration of interactive storytelling. Now there’s more media.”
Ask 5 people what they think transmedia is and you’ll get 10 different answers, all with pretty sound reasoning, most likely based on the industry they work in. In trade publishing, it’s a relatively new buzzword with little consensus on its meaning or importance, while other industries are more familiar with it and approach it in different ways.
Last week, I attended NYTVF’s Digital Day session, Building the World–Multiplatform and Transmedia Storytelling, and while specific platforms and connectivity were emphasized by some, SyFy’s Engler, Bravo’s Lisa Hsia, and the always interesting Jeff Gomez focused primarily on the underlying story. When asked for great examples, Star Wars was of course mentioned, but quickly sidestepped as it’s often seen as an exception, not the rule. Dexter, Battlestar Galactica and Glee were also offered up.
Not mentioned, oddly enough, was the Marvel Universe, perhaps the best example of collaborative fiction there is, and their recent digital and film initiatives gives them a compelling transmedia platform that rivals Star Wars. One could even argue that Stan Lee was a proto-Transmedia Creator and Developer, and you have to wonder how the MU would have evolved if the original creators had retained their rights.
On defining transmedia conceptually, they each offered strong opinions that sync with my own:
“Great storytelling starts with a great idea, not the platform.” – Hsia
“Good transmedia production contributes to the long-term health of the intellectual property.” -Gomez
“This is a great time to be a content creator.” -Engler
While the term “transmedia” is a clunky one that puts more emphasis on platform over story, not unlike the simplistic print vs. ebook debate that drones on and on, it’s gaining traction and we’re likely stuck with it, at least for the time being. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the privilege of engaging in some thought-provoking discussions, in person and online, with some really smart people who have helped me refine my personal definition of what transmedia means.
Briefly, I see three things as being critical to defining and developing a transmedia story:
- Story, Story, Story – Transmedia isn’t a book, a movie, a video game, or an interactive app; it potentially includes any, all or none of the above, depending on the underlying story being told.
- Creative control – In transmedia, there are no ancillary rights. The creator, whether an individual or a collaborative team, must look beyond any single channel or platform and take a more holistic view of the story to ensure that every potential branch is relevant, organic, and part of the official canon.
- Return on Investment – Technology has expanded the mediums available for storytelling, and transmedia is quickly becoming the buzzword of choice for app developers and marketing gurus. If a particular medium doesn’t serve the story AND provide the necessary ROI on financial and/or marketing metrics, it’s just a new shiny distraction.
I wholeheartedly believe, as Engler suggested, that transmedia is a great opportunity for writers and publishers who are savvy enough to look beyond the traditional book and focus on the stories they contain and the unlocked potential therein.
I’ve read three really good articles recently that have greatly influenced my thinking, and I highly recommend them:
- Publishers to sell experiences and not products by Alison Norrington
- The Future of Publishing by Simon Pulman
- Transmedia 2.0 – Participatory Entertainment by Scott Walker
I’ve also put together a WEBcast for Digital Book World on 10/12, Transmedia 101 for Publishers and Authors, that brings together a quartet of smart, innovative people I respect — David Marlett, Alison Norrington, Anita Ondine, Chuck Wendig — to discuss and debate transmedia and what it means from a publishing perspective.
While I highly doubt it, one thing I’d love to come out of that session with is a better term than “transmedia.”
My preference is “free verse storytelling.”
What do you think?