Transmedia and the Publishing Industry

Simon StaffansBy Simon Staffans, Transmedia Developer

“Transmedia is the new black,” someone stated on my Twitterfeed the other day. You’ve all heard it, “transmedia.” The buzzword of 2011, the saviour of storytelling, the thing-that-is-not-marketing-but-for-that-is-used-for-a-helluva-lot-of-marketing. From my point of view – the view of a transmedia format developer – the term simply keeps my mind straight when dealing with storytelling over different media, when creating, developing and telling different stories stemming from a common mythology and story world, glued together by a narrative superstructure and inviting an audience to join in.

Transmedia is also a term that most often is associated with an online world, a mobile world, a connected world: basically, not necessarily a world where the word “publishing” is the first one to come to mind. In my book, publishing definitely does belong in the world of transmedia. Perhaps I will not look to publishing for each and every one of my transmedia projects, but on the other hand I will not look to iPhone apps or fictional Twitter characters for every project either. See, that is one of the key issues when developing and producing transmedia: to use the means available when they make sense as a part of the whole.

Publishing? Yes, transmedia makes sense a lot of the times. Be it as a tangible pre-release, telling the background story to an upcoming major movie, or a collection of diaries and Twitter/Facebook updates from a character in a television series, or as the main component of a transmedia property that goes on to play out extensions and derivations of the story world, depicted in a novel or series of novels, on the web, as an Alternate Reality Game or as a crowd-sourced Twitter flash fiction – the opportunities are many. It all depends on what project is at hand and what opportunities make sense as a part of the whole.

This debate over publishing vs. transmedia is an ongoing one. On Quora, Kristen McLean of Bookigee makes a good case for publishing needing to “focus on evolving the profitability of its model, and transforming its essential workflow for the digital age. That will do more to create the future as far as publishing is concerned, and the Transmedia piece will take care of itself.” Last year, Guy LeCharles Gonzales and Alison Norrington concluded in a couple of posts that the iPad heralded a new world for publishing and that a new breed of writers and publishers would be needed. The debate is not helped overly by the fact that the jury’s still out on what transmedia exactly is.

I do not believe there is any need for there to be a “vs.” between publishing and transmedia. An “&” would be more appropriate, and with time, not even that will be needed. Transmedia projects will use publishing when it makes sense in the whole of the project, and publishing will go transmedia when they have a property that will benefit from such an approach.

In the end, it’s all about telling good stories, making them accessible to the people that would want to take part of them and having more for them to explore, consume and engage with, should they so desire. Add a hefty sprinkle of dialogue, interaction, the possibility to influence and above all respect, and you’re on to a winner.

Simon Staffans has a background in television, radio and newspapers, and has been working at MediaCity Finland as a developer of cross media and transmedia formats since 2005. He’s passionate about storytelling, family, fishing and football. And single malt whiskey.

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5 thoughts on “Transmedia and the Publishing Industry

  1. Victoria Rollison

    I love the opportunities for more engagement with readers through digital story telling. I’m including photos, video, web links and maps in my new book. I can already hear book lovers groaning and saying ‘it’s cheating to do so much showing, not telling’. But I don’t see it like this. I want people to be enthralled, captivated, entertained and excited by my story. The words are only part of the experience, albeit a crucial part. The bells and whistles help to bring the words to life. I’m excited!

    1. Simon Staffans

      Good to hear … would love to hear more about that project, so do get in touch with more info if/when you have the time. Working, on my time off, on a transmedia novel myself… early days though :). Are you thinking of any “side stories” or spin-offs to your major plot line?

  2. Lorraine Hopping Egan

    “This debate over publishing vs. transmedia is an ongoing one.”

    I’m coming at transmedia storytelling directly from the publishing world (books and board games) and thank you, Simon, for the sensible counterweight (“&” not “or”) to this debate.

    I’ve spent the last year breaking into those other silos (film, video game, ARG, social media, tech) to build cross-platform bridges, and do feel the occasional culture shock. I’ve been learning the lingo, the rules, and the key players, and sometimes get a whiff that people place book-based transmedia projects, many of them aimed at kids, in a separate class than the big film/TV or AAA video game ones.

    Big mistake, I think. Die-hard readers, especially young ones, are the easiest to lure down a rabbit hole with a juicy carrot. They come to a story world ready and willing to play along. They’re growing up with the idea of moving seamlessly between media, between online and offline worlds. Book are just as much a part of that world as other media.

    Patrick Carman discussed how kids read his books, put them down to enter codes in a website, go back to the books—again and again: I was skeptical. To me, that sounded like a stopper—too much friction, too many opportunities to drop out. But the huge popularity and success of the 39 Clues proves otherwise.

  3. Simon Staffans


    I can’t but agree. True story: when, as a kid, I was not out playing football, racing on bikes or trying to raise frogs in a bucket filled with water (unsuccessfully, sorry frogs 🙁 ) I read. A lot. One day I came home from the library (which was next to my school, and a daily stop for me on my way home) in a very sad mood. My mother asked me what was wrong. “I’ve read all the books I can reach at the library”, I said. “now I’m going to have to wait until I’ve grown to read more!”.

    Oh, to have had rabbit holes back then!!

  4. John Pansini

    I have written a memoir that incorporates transmedia with publishing. It’s an ebook with 63 minutes of audio embedded into ten of its seventeen chapters (in 32 mp3 files). It’s a true spy story and those I bugged have, until now, always been the buggers: the FBI, KGB and GRU. Wonder what their reaction will be when they finally learn that one of the little people wire-tapped them.

    The tapes were made 25 years ago, and only now that the technology has finally caught up, this is a most opportune time. If e-publishing is the cutting edge, then ROOFMAN is a razor on that edge. I firmly believe it will change both e-publishing and dead-tree publishing as we know it.

    Below is a copy of my press release that I have been sending to various newspapers, radio and TV shows:

    ROOFMAN: Nail-Banger, Librarian & Spy

    Everyone loves a good spy story – especially if it’s true.

    The ebook I’ve written is a memoir about a roofer with a Master’s degree in library science and his experience as a double agent recruited by the FBI, GRU & KGB in New York City during the 1980’s. That roofer is… ME!

    What distinguishes this ebook from every other non-fiction book out there, is the actual wire tap audio files that have been embedded into ten of its seventeen chapters. Check out my site ; click on Free Reads and you will see how nicely the audio fits with the chapters. Click on Roofman Bugs the Buggers to hear random excerpts.

    What I have published has never been done before. This is an “enhanced” ebook with real conversations of real people.

    Thank you,
    John Pansini



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