Multiformat narratives open new doors for publishers

Multiformat narratives open new doors for publishers

Publishers are continuing to explore new models for the book - using enhanced audio and visual materials, and print-on-demand - as content is curated, sliced, repackaged and evolved in more innovative ways than ever before.

Ahead of the FutureBook Conference (4th December), which features two panels on the “new publishing”, innovators told The Bookseller that new digital products were helping them build on their assets and drive customer engagement. Others warned that publishing risked missing out on these new markets if scaleable and discoverable products were not brought to market. Just last week app developer Touchpress announced it was selling its literary and education apps, and focusing on free music apps designed for the Apple TV platform.

Faber chief executive Stephen Page warned of the difficulties of finding an audience for “new publishing” products. He said: “At Faber we continue to enquire into future book formats, means of aggregating our copyright and ways we can use the web to create a world around our authors and copyright. While we have had individual successes with apps and enhanced e-books, it has been challenging to find any regular scale of audience for such products. That doesn’t mean that formats won’t emerge - our recent Arcadia app, developed with the writer Iain Pears, is an example of an exploration of one part of fiction’s future. We remain interested and excited about the possibilities of the web and of mobile, and will continue to explore ways to create value and audiences.”

George Walkley, head of digital at Hachette UK, said the different product development processes and the challenges of marketing direct to consumers have to be considered in new forms of publishing, where discoverability is a “fundamental challenge”. He said: “We are operating in a context of extraordinary abundance: not only in the number of books being published but the number of videos being uploaded to YouTube, the number of apps being published every day. Consumers are spoilt for choice. So being noticed is an extraordinary challenge.”

According to Samantha Rayner, director of the Centre for Publishing at UCL, in academia the “abundance” extends to Open Access, “blowing apart traditional models”. She said: “I am determined to remain positive that we have so much choice, whether [we are] academic or fiction writers.”

Engaging audiences in advance was considered key, as well as taking an iterative approach. Emily Labram, product manager at HarperCollins, who helped launch the publisher’s award-winning Game of Thrones app, said: “We had two focus groups for Game of Thrones fans and we heard them mention the unreliable quality of material online around the "Game of Thrones" TV series, and the danger of running into spoilers and not having a good way of sampling the books.

“It’s a case of seeing where those users’ needs match the strength of our authors’ content, and also the rights that we own. It’s then a case of working out what format is right - whether it’s an app, a website, an enhanced e-book or acombination of print and digital.” She added: “I would call it a new product: it is the unbinding of a book series in print form and then a rebinding in digital.”

Mark Searle, publisher for Quarto imprints Quintet and RotoVision, said he had capitalised on the advances in colour print-on-demand by launching This is Your Cookbook, an online platform which enables people to make their own personalised recipe books. Comparing its development to traditional publishing, Searle said: “It’s not necessarily what you’d think of as ‘publishing’...it’s more about enabling people to create something that has great value to them and is completely unique. The whole thing has been an iterative process and I think that’s one of the differences between this kind of publishing - the new publishing, whatever you want to call it - [and traditional publishing].”

Crystal Mahey-Morgan, founder of Own It!, a storytelling lifestyle brand, stressed the importance of harnessing direct-to-consumer routes with new publishing products. “It is really important,” she said. “It’s traditionally something that publishers don’t do very well. It’s crucial in this market.”

Searle added: “You can’t launch a successful direct-to-consumer platform without investing time and energy into building the community around it as well as innovative tech development.”

New publishing products are also providing publishers with precious data and insight. Labram said: “Revenue isn’t always the main metric of success. With the Game of Thrones app, one of the key metrics was also conversion to sign in - whether a user signs up with email - which gives us data about their reading progress and location, the principle being that the app initiates sustainable relationships with readers that might result in them transacting further down the line. For us the rate of sign-in on the app was over 50%, despite it being optional, which was very pleasing.”

Walkley agreed that an iterative process was key: “The fundamental difference is that the development cycle looks very different. The interesting thing about digital is it can be updated: you add features, you can see how consumers are using it after it’s been shipped and whether that behaviour, in terms of volume and in terms of details, matches the intuition you had about the product - and you can redevelop [it] from there.”

Mahey-Morgan added: “Publishers have opportunities at the moment to bring stories and content alive. We need to be creative and innovative in the way we tell stories. Publishers need to think about this in terms of competing with other entertainment companies: readers are used to multiformat content and we need to ensure we retain and grow our audiences.”

Five innovative books

Don’t Be Alien (Own It!)

Don’t Be Alien is an animated multimedia song and book. it weaves together lyrics, music and animation to create a layered way to experience a story within a song, and a song within a book. the audio incorporated in the multimedia book product will be available to buy as a standalone song through own it!’s direct-to-consumer website and digital retailers from 30th november.

Mr Quin (Agatha Christie Ltd)

This storytelling app from Agatha Christie Productions and mobile entertainment platform Tell is based on Christie’s short-story collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, and stars “Game of Thrones” actor Gethin Anthony in the lead role. The app has been billed as the first “digital drama” of its kind, and it is the first contemporary adaptation to feature Christie’s supernatural duo Quin and Satterthwaite.

Arcadia (Faber/Touchpress)

Iain Pears’ novel Arcadia was published as an app using specially commissioned software, and developed for readers by Touchpress and Faber. The app presents readers with a choice of 10 character strands and enables them to approach the novel as a series of traditional linear stories, or to switch freely between the tales. The app has been shortlisted for Best Adult Digital Book at this year’s FutureBook Awards.

Calmeleon (Octopus)

Octopus has released Calmeleon, a “mindful” colouring app with more than 300 original designs and puzzles intended to calm users. Calmeleon has been shortlisted for FutureBook’s Best Adult Digital Book. Another Octopus app, Ella’s Kitchen: First Foods, is filled with healthy baby food recipes, a weaning guide, a weekly meal planner and in-built cooking timers. It has been shortlisted for FutureBook’s Best Reference Digital Book Award.

Lonely Planet

The Best in Travel campaign outlines the “hottest” trends, destinations and experiences for the year ahead. Now in its 11th year, it is a campaign the company runs across all of its channels. The product will be released as a printed book, and will be tied in with online and social content. The global integrated campaign is intended to run across all of Lonely Planet’s platforms.

The FutureBook Conference takes place on 4th December in London. For more information and to book click here.