Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Report from the London Book Fair

On the advice of my Scarletta editor and publisher, I came to the London Book Fair this year. April in England wasn't a hard sell. During the day my husband and daughter go to parks and museums while I wander the convention floor or squeeze into overcrowded seminars with terrible acoustics. In the evening we dine or go to the theater as a family.

A big theme of the conference is how the digital world is affecting the publishing world. There's an ongoing strand on the technical aspects of e-books and how they affect publishing models. There's another strand on "transmedia," creating "properties" or varied but related content that can pull in print books, e-books, graphic novels, TV, movies, Internet games, and/or apps all at once. Criteria for trans- or cross-media properties, according to one speaker, include use of more than one medium, different content for each medium, integrated use, delivery on multiple devices, and interactivity.

One such property was The Truth about Marika, a Swedish television series from 2007. The "docudrama" series claimed that many Swedes disappear every year as they are inducted into a secret society. As the series started, a "friend" of the "real" Marika" started a blog complaining that the drama series was exploiting the true story of her friend's disappearance. People were invited to use the Internet to research clues about the society, take film and photographs, and send in their findings to a central site in what is referred to as a "mixed reality" game. Interest and viewership was huge, and the series won awards for innovation, but viewers' enthusiasm turned to a feeling of betrayal when they learned that every part of the series, complaint, blog, and even a staged confrontation had been scripted and even filmed in advance. A less manipulative example closer to home is Scholastic's children's series The 39 Clues, which combines books (each written by a different, known children's author), online gaming, trading cards, and real prizes.

Both examples present another reality about these projects that are conceived of as transmedia or crossmedia from the first. They are group projects; they don't issue from a single author's imagination. The producers and marketers conceive of them, and then the artistic staff, including authors, are hired for piecework. It was encouraging, then, to attend a panel on books that successfully transfer to movies. Harry Potter's editor at Bloomsbury fielded a question on how she identifies properties that have the potential to become successful movies. She said, "I don't look for properties. I look for books. I look for wonderful author voices and originality."

I'm all for exploring how new technologies can catch audiences up in the excitement of a storytelling experience. But it's good to hear a reminder that in the end, the story is what matters most.

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