#lbf16: What Else Should Publishers Publish?

Guy Gadney leaves a slide up on the screen before the session starts. It’s a quote pulled from Henry Jenkins’ PhD “Convergence? I Diverge.” Here’s a section:

“We are entering an era where media will be everywhere and we will use all kinds of media relative to one another. Media convergence encourages transmedia storytelling. […] The multiple forms of media convergence are leading us toward a digital renaissance – a period of transition and transformation that will affect all aspects of our lives.”

People are accustomed to new media.
It’s unsurprising that he’s been the digital guy for several companies – from Penguin to the BBC – along the road. He was always around something to do with digital. You have to begin by looking at what audiences are doing, as changing audience behaviour is the biggest challenge. However, people are now so accustomed to new media that they start to play. There’s existing skills that uniquely position book publishers to use as leverage on this front.

Statistics from Australia are shown, though the trends are similar to the UK. One key takeaway is that time spent on a device doesn’t mean it’s time spent consuming content. Being on the internet could be checking emails – hours online doesn’t mean your product immediately has an active audience for that full time.

There’s a wave, interestingly, led by kids switching off the TV. The older people get, the more they watch. Older people are often ignored but in many cases they’re using platforms more than those people expect to be, and just because TV isn’t watched, it doesn’t mean people are literally doing nothing. So what’s the point?

Convergence is a buzzword.
The point is that we focus less on singular media, and that our attention is taken via multiple media outlets across the day. Take Game of Thrones – you immerse yourself in a character, the world and narratives. Then it finishes. You try to find more to fill the voids in the story world, and that’s where transmedia comes in. It builds stories more broadly.

Convergence was a buzzword, but it was wrong. They’re meant to merge to one thing – that has never happened. Everything has diverged and fragmented. He remembers he once made something for Penguin and it had to work on two or three platforms. A recent app had over 6,000 variations of where it could work. Consumer choice has mushroomed alongside this.

His view is that there’s a cycle: an idea is hyped, it drops off, but it does come back. It gets a second life about seven years later. The first time round it was pioneering and people were a bit reluctant or fearful.

Use each medium for what it does best.
In essence, transmedia is “using each medium to do what it does best”. You’re forced to think about content in a different way. Mobile is different from online, which is different from print, and then from TV. You need to question: how are they different?

One example he takes us through is a tie-in to Sherlock. When a show finishes – why stop? We’ve learned that people turn to piracy in need of content. They don’t take no for an answer – so give them something. Crime was perfect as its viewers challenge themselves as it is – can they solve it quicker than Sherlock? They took this premise and made it an app. You open the app, Benedict Cumberbatch talks straight to you breaking the fourth wall, and then will communicate with you via phone. People like getting closer to the stories, and this is one way they could. People also like playing games.

Writers will tend to get on board really easily as they rarely get the chance to explore their characters beyond set parameters. What would be on their Spotify playlist? There’s so many ways to broaden a story with small things like what.

Global app downloads passed 100b this year. Apps are still going strong – you just need to get the structure of it right. Free with in-app purchase is a structure that’s only going to keep rising as technology grows. But what do you need to grow these stories? Once you have the fundamentals in place, you can focus on creativity.

To excite audiences, stories should exist in multiple forms. Don’t put up barriers, break them down. Because at the end of the day, publishing has the greatest advantage of all: the gift of storytelling.

More from London Book Fair 2016

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