“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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