In the last of our profiles of this year's five BookTech Company of the Year finalists, we talk to Johanna Forsman of Story Tourist, the "Pokémon Go for stories".
StoryTourist is "a kind of Pokémon Go for stories" - an app that allows readers to experience books at the very locations where the action takes place. Books and other stories become treasure hunts in the city, the forest, or wherever the storyline leads, allowing readers to explore their favorite story destinations, read stories on location, and find out what your favorite literary places look, taste, sound and smell like.
StoryTourist was founded by Swedish couple Johanna Forsman (right) and Andreas Jansson. "We're two writers love reading, travelling and the democratisation of society that new technology can bring - if used wisely," Forsman explains. It began as a non-profit initiative in co-operation with the City Library of Malmö, funded by the Swedish Arts Council, to develop digital tools for literacy in young adults, but the pair are currently building it into a wider commercial proposition.
The latest addition to their team is Samuel Johansson, an in-house programmer. "He has ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and we have really been blown away by his talents," Forsman enthuses. "We would love to work with more neurodivergent people in the future."
What's the gap in the market?
Forsman and Jansson are hoping to offer publishers and authors new business opportunities by tapping into the local tourism market. "The film and television industries have started to research and capitalise on the tourism value being created when a city or region is featured on screen," Forsman says. "For example, the EuroScreen project found that social media attention around the film Notting Hill annually generated free marketing for London tourism that was equivalent to at least €24,9m in online ads - even though the film is 15 years old!
"We believe that literature fans are just as curious about the locations where their favorite stories take place, and although there hasn’t been any large studies conducted, literary tourism is a thriving community and growing market. By transforming books into treasure hunts in our app, tourists not only walk in the footsteps of fiction, but actually read and experience the stories on location."
Success so far
It's still early days for the StoryTourist team, but they're making good progress. For the past few months they have been developing the app and the online publishing platform, which allows them to break up stories into segments, and attach coordinates which the GPS on a smart phone can convert into treasure hunts.
The platform is being built as a forum, where publishing partners will be able to adapt their books and sell them through the StoryTourist app. Individual users will also be invited to write original short stories for the app, and Forsman and Jansson are are looking at ways to let the best writers share in the profits.
"We are developing software that will make reading in the StoryTourist app an even more immersive activity, such as audio tracks that enhance your surroundings, and playful augmented reality elements that spark your imagination and make the StoryTourist experience fun to share on social media," Forsman explains.
Translating the original not-for-profit initiative into a profitable venture.
"The City Library of Malmö project gave the team some very important insights into how being on location amplifies the reading experience, and how fantasising about objects in our surroundings can lower the threshold for creative writing," Forsman says. It’s taken a while for us to figure out how to harness what we learned in that project, and use it to make a product for the market where we saw the biggest commercial potential - literary tourism, while also staying true to our social aims.
They have now decided to develop the two branches separately, creating a commercial business with the StoryTourist app, and starting a non-profit association for the literacy projects. "Living and operating in Malmö, where over 40% of the population are immigrants, or children of two people born in other countries, it’s a very important issue to us."
We want to be the go-to travel app for literature fans and people who want a unique and immersive tourist experience, and the go-to tech partner for authors and publishers who want to benefit from the tourism market their loyal fans are already creating.
We also want to create amazing tools for literacy projects, and make sure that new generations of readers and writers find their way to the wonderful world of literature.
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
"We have found the publishing industry to be curious but slightly cautious of new technology. But if you stay true to what you believe in, your hard work will pay off!"
To see StoryTourist pitch for the BookTech crown in front of a panel of industry judges, join us at the FutureBook Conference on December 2nd. In the meantime, catch up with the profiles of our other finalists: Publishizer, Kadaxis, Joosr and Novel Effect.