Transmedia Storytelling: Are The Kids Alright?

(via The & Patrick

Engaging kids to read books ( the paper kind ), is proving to be an adventure for many traditional publishers. In response to tectonic shifts in the way kid’s engage with media, publishers at large are in search of the engagement Holy Grail to compel kids to read ( and buy ) more books.

Transmedia: The Secret Ingredient?

Exploring transmedia approaches may open doors to new ways to engage kids whose lives revolve around online communities, games and social networks. Publishing being a big, serious business, there’s a lot of brain-trust activity working overtime to crack the media consumption code for kids. In the push, there’s some interesting insights surfacing that most anyone interested in transmedia as a storytelling medium might find useful. Here are a few–

Jeff Norton of Awesome Media & Entertainment  says publishers would be wise to “think not about platforms, but audiences”.  A good story should be be immersive and engaging, regardless of the delivery  method. Nowadays, it appears multiple means of getting into the story, via multiple entrance portals, is expected. Peter Robinson of Dubit Research, a cross-media research company, feels “… kids expect a presence for a story across platforms. There are so many ways that kids can consume a story.”  Robinson adds this bit, too; “Today’s kids are platform agnostic and don’t care where their favourite stories and characters come from. It used to be the case that books or TV shows launched characters and toys, but now online entertainment is proving just as important.”

Of course, publishers want to get great stories in to the hands ( and heads ) of children to turn them on to the joy of reading a good story. Like me, some kids have trouble seeing the story hidden between book covers– and will lean toward a decidedly non-linear approach to engagement over platforms, versus cracking the cover to see what’s inside. Sometimes, reading just isn’t what I’m looking for, especially if the read looks like it won’t be as interesting as doing some digital spelunking online and elsewhere. As for finding fans of digital immersion tech for publishing, we needn’t flip too many stones;   Andrew Piller of FMX Fremantle , amongst others, is sure things are on the right track. For him, stories told via digital platforms is the “creative model which is the future of storytelling”.

Cracking Covers and Codes

Author Patrick Carman, creator of 3:15 and several series for teen readers incorporates transmedia elements to his stories to encourage teens to get fired up about reading. In a recent interview with Dennis Abrams for, Carman shared some of his approaches to storytelling with Dark Eden, a book published  both as a book and an iPad app.

Carman spills on his approaches: Dark Eden is designed to reach different kinds of readers. For traditional readers who prefer to read words, the book will give them exactly what they’re expecting ( plus some amazing drawings from artist Patrick Arrasmith, who we were very lucky to have on the project ). But I’m also interested in finding new ways of reaching very wired teens. And let’s be honest. Most of today’s teens are jacked in, wired up, and buzzing on tech throughout a normal day. The Dark Eden app tells the exact same story as the print edition; it just does it in a totally different way. With the app version, a participant enters into the story through a series of maps. Within those images are numbered icons that must be opened in order. There’s no way of knowing what’s behind the curtain of each number until they’re tapped, but every icon unlocks one of three things:

  • An audio diary. With these, participants listen in on conversations taking place in the world of the story.
  • A video, allowing participants to see firsthand what’s happening to certain key moments of the narrative.
  • A journal entry. Taken directly from the book, the journal entries provide bite-sized reading segments.”
Carman clarifies further; “It’s not a novel, it’s not an audio book, and it’s not a movie. It’s all three at one time. For some teen readers – the one’s publishing has lost in a rising tide of video games, movies, TV shows, the Internet, and cell phones — this is the kind of experience that will help them enjoy reading again. It’s a lifeline back to books, if you will. For traditional readers, it’s a new way to imagine what reading can be.”
Fuelling the fire, without burning the books
One cool aspect of multi-platfrom/ transmedia approaches is the opportunity for young readers to engage, explore and find entry into reading via numerous portals. Options continue to present themselves daily, via a myriad of distribution mediums, both online and off. Folks like Patrick Carman, as publishers, content producers, writers, and directors in their own right, are plumbing the tech to see where it leads them. It’s a little scary, but if the result turns young readers to jump onboard, fired up to follow a thread from the online world to a library and into a book, I think that’s a great thing. Patrick Carman has this to say on converging methods;
“I’m watching where kids and teens are going and building new storytelling methods that will meet them where they’re at. The ultimate goal is to discover ways to make reading relevant in an increasingly noisy world. But to be clear, I don’t think all books should be brimming with multimedia. That would be a tragedy! These projects are designed to re-introduce reading to an audience that doesn’t think reading fiction can be enjoyable. In a perfect world, a teen experiences the Dark Eden app and it puts them back in the reading for pleasure game. The next story they pick up, I hope is in the form of a traditional novel. Last disclaimer: there are plenty of teen readers reading normal books. Bravo, young readers!”
Carman concludes; “Let’s be honest with ourselves as adult readers and writers: there are a lot of teenagers who simply do not read for pleasure. It’s off their radar. I’m trying to win them back.”
(Patrick Carman has a great site! Have a visit, and check the interview with publishing at the link.)
Got anything to add to the conversation? Drop a note in the Comments box, below!

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