IfBookThen: Stories at Heart

by Suw on March 21, 2013

I’m at the IfBookThen conference in Stockholm today. Later on I’ll be talking about direct sales, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to some really interesting sessions which I will, of course, blog here in as much detail as I can capture. As usual, I’m live-blogging, so expect errors!

Joanna Ellis, The Literary Platform

Stories sit at the heart of publishing, without them we don’t have a business, and storytelling is shaped by the technology at hand. Shames the relationship between author and reader. 

Digital technologies shape the network, which shames the story. Rich opportunity to evolve.

A few key themes emerging: how the audience is becoming participatory; how the creative impetus of digital tech is bleeding back into physical and shaping the print world. 

Inanimate alice

Episodic novel for teens, readers drive the story forward by performing various actions. Students & young people encouraged to hack the story themselves, so readers can add their own media. Was conceived as enterntainment, but now adopted by teachers in 70 countries as a way of developing digital literacy. Shift away from the auteur to collaboration, created by team of 8-9 people and the audience. 

The Silent History

Dystopian future story. More adult than Alice, but also episodic, short episodes delivered as you read, written by team of 5 people. Using GPS, stories are located in the physical world that you have to go to. Can contribute in term from that place back into the story. 

Dreams of Your Life

Interactive story, written by AL Kennedy. Quite dark, written to go with a documentary about a woman who died and wasn’t found for three years. As a reader you respond to questions and the responses shape the story. Unfolds over one half hour. Responses are pre-designed but still feel tailored to each reader.

Composition No. 1

Another in which the reader shapes the story. Box contains 1000 pages, each page has a self-contained narrative, and the reader chooses which order to read them in. But readers were unwilling to shuffle the pages, they felt it “breaks the rules”. But in iPad version the pages shuffle automatically and only stops when your finger is on the screen. Technology liberates us from rules and conventions we’re used to. 

Enchanted Books

Not released yet, part of Library of Lost Books. using physical computing tech to bring life to an old print book. Sensors are hidden in the spine, and send data back about whether the reader is turning pages, and triggers the sending of audio back to the reader’s iPhone. 

What we see more and more, there has been one way of being for so long. Vanilla ebooks are an extension of the print book world these projects are more individual. 

Heard from authors that they felt excluded from the process of discussing the future of publishing, so set up The Writing Platform. Are trying to pair writers with technologists, got two writers, two technologists for three months to experiment and see what happens. 

Evan Ratliff, Atavist

About two and a half years ago, was working as a freelance journalist for a magazine, and was complaining to editor about how they couldn’t do stories of the length they wanted to do. And sometimes, when print stories moved to the web, it was just thrown up and didn’t take advantage of what you could do with the web. 

So came up with the idea of a digital publication something in between magazines and books. So built a platform. Asked journalists to pitch a story to them, but people were not interested in writing for something that didn’t exist. 

So Ratliff heard about a robbery in Stockholm, so came here and researched it, and wrote the first Atavist story, Lifted. Story opens with the actual footage of the robbery, landed a helicopter on the roof of a cash depot and robbed it. 

Wanted to tell the story but happy to mix media. Decided that footage was a better lead than anything they could write. Chapter one is about the planning of the robbery. 

If you don’t know where the locations are, you can call a map up, you can see the view from the bench that the robbers sat on when they planned it, photos of the people involved you can bring up by tapping on their name. 

Evolved over last two years to be a story telling company. Make short books. Set out to tell true stories, what you call that – book, magazine – doesn’t matter. 

Recent one was primarily a documentary film with text built in. 

Created tools to allow them to write stories, but provide those tools to publishers and soon to individuals. 

Stories are sold individually or by subscription. Can download to ereader, or read online, or through an app on your phone. The story is the key thing, where it gets told is just a matter of technology. Multimedia designed into everything. 

Country Club in Baghdad – first chapter is an animated narration of how the story starts. 

Try to do stories once a year about music, as this model is perfect. Piano Demon is a story about a musician from the 20s/30s, with original recordings of his music. The idea is to give the reader an experience that feels different. Feels like reading but has a cinematic quality. But it’s not the same for every story, but every story has something. Try to keep it different. 

Had to find an audience, and some people read on ebook readers, so that strips out media, but need a broader audience. 

Software: helping others tell their stories. Platform: Creativist. Eliminates the need to create tech middlemen to converts files. Tech allows you to do everything in one place.

User agnostic: needs to be usable by the storytellers, not coders. 

Media agnostic: doesn’t care if a chapter is video or audio or text. 

Platform agnostic: doesn’t care where you want to send it, so can do video heavy version or it can strip out the video and make it text-only. 

Everyone can create something that looks different. Paris Reviews, TED Books. 

Going to be doing full-length books, fiction and non-fiction, taking these principles to apply it to print and see what goes. 

Opening up Creativist to individuals too. 

Frank Rose, author

Talking about the idea of story worlds, re-imagining it and making room for the reader or viewer to explore it. 

Looked at the Steig Larsson’s character Mikael Blomkvist, how would he have reported a story? Did the research and produced the piece. 

Expanding the story of the film. Part of a project doing with Fincher to explain his take on Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Puzzles, treasure hunt. 

Immersive. Immersion not a new idea – Don Quixote lost his mind due to reading too much.

Dickens, participatory story telling. Era of migration from countryside to city, at a time of social upheaval. Cities good for publishing – literacy rates soared, 30% to 67% in ten years 1830 – 1840. But no one had money, but had better printing presses, paper was better quality and there were railways to distribute stuff. So publishers decided to print novels cheaply and sell in instalments, a few chapters a month at an affordable price. Almost all of Dickens’ novels were serialised. He knew his audience very well having lived it. 

What Would Google Do? People should turn for guidance to Google.

Perhaps ask, What would Dickens do? Industrial revolution created mass media, generated new industries like newspapers and magazines, and book publishing. But didn’t allow audience to connect with author. 

Dickens’ serialisation did allow connection. He was writing chapters at a time. He worked at a magazine called Master Humphrey’s Clock which was weekly. Wanted to shorten the “intervals of communication” between him and his readers. 

People over time forgot what Dickens did, and how he was in constant contact with his readers. They wanted some sort of voice in his stories, though he didn’t always listen. There was pandemonium when it became clear that Little Nell wasn’t going to make it in the Old Curiosity Shop. Ship coming into NY harbour greeted by a crowd of poeple shouting “Is Little Nell alive?”

If a story wasn’t going well, eg Martin Chuzzlewit, he listened more to his reader, so moved the action to America. 

What would Dickens Do? He would have had a blog. His web skills would have been good, but he would have faced issues. And challenges of daily publication would have been worse than weekly publication. Might have done like John Lanchester, wrote Capital, about the residence of Pepys Road. 

Matt Locke worked with Faber & Faber to create online version of Lanchester’s fictional world. 

Personalise the story through a game. Get a series of emails, including news stories tailored to your circumstances, would learn how you’d be effected by the next ten years, the ‘lost ten years’ predicted by economists due to austerity. 

Another example, The Strain Trilogy, website that takes the story further. What would life really be like if you lived in a world where vampire were in charge and humans were just food. 

Pottermore. Would Dickens have done Olivermore? Oliver Twist the serial was different to the novel. 

Readers have been trained to think of a book as a book, but now starting to see books in a different way. Want books to embrace them and draw them in. New relationship with readers. 

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