It's time for publishers to choose their own adventure

It's time for publishers to choose their own adventure

Muki Kulhan is an award-winning executive digital producer with over two decades' experience creating interactive and immersive content for music,TV, entertainment and tech innovation. After 10 years growing MTV’s digital platforms in the 00s, she now runs Muki International, producing digital content, VR/AR and business strategies for broadcasters, artists and R&D teams. As BBC’s Digital Exec for The Voice UK she produced the world's first-ever ‘series’ of 360° VR experiences. 

Kulhan regularly speaks at conferences such as IBC, London Tech Week, BAFTA, Zurich Film Festival, ImmerseUK, Cambridge Wireless, Dublin Tech Summit, Microsoft Reactor and guest-hosts the highly-acclaimed Digital Jam Sessions tech podcast.

She is also giving the opening keynote at this year's FutureBook Live conference on November 30th. In this rousing piece, Kulhan gives us a taster of how she's going to be applying her insight to the world of books.

So, it’s the year 2018 (ok, nearly 2019!), and more than ever before, our day to day lives are filling up with kooky, techie vocabulary that was once thought of as Black Mirror-esque sci-fi, but now represent the reality of sci-non-fi. Words like augmented and virtual reality, biotech, mixed-transmedia, mobile-driven, voice-activated, artificial intelligence and blockchain are now mainstream lingo, and for extra cyber-credits, I’ll even throw in my personal favourite catch phrase: “These damn robots are going to take over the world!” And hey, if ya can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? Starting today.

Because with all this new tech comes new adventures, new ways to shape how we live our lives, raise our families, grow our businesses, learn, play, read, argue, love, diversify, and create. And as creatives, we are living in the most exciting time we’ve had for ages. The best part of it is, with the digital revolution in full swing, we are earning our digital stripes together across sectors, joining forces with knowledge-transfer and sharing new techniques to tell our stories and choose our own adventures, more collaboratively than ever before.

Throughout the last two decades producing interactive/immersive content and strategies in the music and broadcasting industries, I’ve seen first-hand how much digital and emerging tech has changed our business, and frankly, for the better. The same thing could be said about the book and publishing worlds, who, as kissing cousins of the music industry, we’ve both dug our way out of the digital trenches as we watched physical become more digital then wrestled our products between convenience and nostalgia, as our listeners and readers effortlessly converted their entertainment into the palms of their hands.

Masters of the Sun - The Zombie Chronicles by The Black Eyed Peas

But for books in particular, the perseverance to adapt is paying off as these new digital adventures start to take shape in the form of immersive and interactive storytelling around their original titles, built as trusty companions for its physical brothers and sisters. Digital formats beyond ebooks that are help keeping physical products alive have found success especially within in the education sector, with shout-outs going to Octagon Studios who have created a series of 4D+ AR flashcards where things like dinosaurs, human organs and space stations come to life as animated, augmented graphics via their app. (Yes, I have the full collection.) And a massive yass goes to Touch Press and StoryToys who created one of the best interactive AR apps for one of the best books ever made ever, in the form of My Very Hungry Caterpillar. ‘Nuff said.

In addition, we’ve also seen the age-old artform of storytelling morph from the written word (the original immersive experience!) to physical experiences through location-based and arcade-style activities, with titles licensing and transforming their characters and tales off the page and into virtual narratives (hello, Fantastic Beasts VR!). While other original, more theatrical adaptations give visual and audio cues to fans who physically immerse themselves into the storylines and can dictate the ending as if they were part of a live Punchdrunk performance (cue the brilliant work of PlaylinesAR), then hit the gift shop afterwards to purchase the physical souvenirs in the form of picture books, original manuscripts and more, embracing the old school with the new.

Back in the comfort of our own homes, despite the now normality of pocket-sized readers, audiobooks read by celebrities and smart speakers with voice-activated, interactive storylines, there is still a massive lure and enjoyment for grown-ups buying books for kids (and the kids reading them!), and in turn the grown-ups also confessing that they “still love holding a book and reading it, and get a squishy, emotional thrill when turning the page.” (True confession: this digital queen still loves reading actual books, and I’m not afraid to say or type it again!)

So, maybe the trick to keeping up with our high-speed evolving physi-digi times and sharing our knowledge across sectors really is just about bringing back old school into the new school and creating one school.

Reeling in one last example of this ‘digital gentrification’ comes in the form of global chart-topping ‘hip-pop’ group the Black Eyed Peas, who, with the celebration of their 20th anniversary tell their stories and narratives not only via their music, but across trans-media, integrating cutting-edge tech into their live concerts with an interactive, AR app that activates content to tap, swipe and share in real time. On top of that, the Peas have also produced a fantastic graphic novel with Marvel Comics that ‘comes with’ an AR app that launches sound effects, music and 3D animated graphics of the characters that become the augmented storytellers, voiced by not only hip-hop legends like Queen Latifah and KRS, but the late great Stan Lee.

I’m sure we can agree that regardless of our creative sector, the tech is here to stay, and is moving as fast as the ideas in our head. As we hold hands together to push boundaries, take creative risks and choose our own adventures, we know that deep down, the best is to come. And the humans and robots lived happily ever after. The End…and, reboot.

FutureBook Live takes place on 30th November in London, at 155 Bishopsgate. The full programme can be accessed here, and tickets can be bought here.