Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Story of a Transmedia Revolution: (Part 1) To Arms...

The Book Thump Heard Round The World

After more than thirty years of fits and starts, a storytelling revolution is finally about to begin.  Naturally, the catalyst was a book; surprisingly, however, it was a high school text book...

Immersive and interactive digital books will
soon be jumping off screens everywhere...
(Image via Creative Commons) 
Earlier this week, Apple announced the release of iBooks Author, a new content creation platform for their ubiquitous iPad.  However, unlike most of Apple’s hardware or software announcements, this one has seemed to garner little public interest.  This could be attributed to the fact that according to Apple’s keynote, the only things that were “unveiled” were a new kind of digital school textbook, and a software program to make them.

School, text books, and reading…ho-hum.

The average person is as likely to sit through a keynote presentation on those two topics, as work on their taxes for fun. And this new software isn’t even wrapped in shiny high-tech aluminum: a baby iPad to combat Amazon’s encroaching Kindle Fire.  As I watched the footage of the keynote, and it become apparent there was going to be no iText, iTome, or iTablet reader—just a pair of “un-Jobs” like Apple executives walking the audience through the pages of a digital biology text book—I was sorely tempted to give up early on the hour long presentation.

Apple Education Keynote, January 2012

But I’m very glad I didn’t.  It isn't often that you get the chance to be on the ground floor of history as it happens.  Stop, and bookmark this moment in your life (it happens right around time marker 23:52 in the video above).

It might seem like a trivial thing, but imagine if you could remember the exact moment mankind learned to use fire as a tool, or how to farm, or how to surf the net on the world’s first web browser?  Imagine if you could remember where you were, and what you were doing, when a major cultural revolution happened?

News flash: it already has...

various e-book readers. From right to left iPa...
"The evolution of e-readers..."
(Image via Wikipedia)

Mark my words, the true potential (and mind blowing cultural shift) this technology portends, will soon become apparent to everyone.  We are finally taking a tentative step away from our addiction to mono-active entertainment, and are slowly beginning a long and painful trek back towards what our brains have always been naturally wired for…storytelling.

Will the real digital publishing revolution...please stand up?

E-Books have been around for several decades now, and as the technology of printing continues to evolve, nothing really seems to have changed.  Where is the hypertext, multimedia, immersive, interactive, non-liniar narrative that has always been muttered about as the future of storytelling?

Where’s the digital text revolution we’ve long been promised?

There isn't anything game changing about e-ink technology—other than leading to a growing scarcity of brick and mortar book stores.   Yes, it’s a new platform for text, but it’s not any kind of revolution.  It’s analogous to looking at high resolution photos of renaissance paintings…on an LCD monitor.  It hasn’t changed how we read, just how we shop.  And more importantly, it hasn’t changed how we write.

But now that iBook Author has arrived on the scene, the real storytelling revolution can finally begin.

Few seem to realize the power of this tiny spark of a program.  It’s a catalyst that’s going to burn some long held (and cherished) paradigms to the ground--and in the process, create a tremendous inferno of interest in transmedia and multimodal storytelling.

Why is Transmedia a big deal?

Transmedia Rising (March 2011)
View more presentations from JWTIntelligence
Why iBooks Author?  (And, why now?)

Infographic by Ryan Bretag (Click HERE for full-size)
The number of E-books being sold has more than doubled every year; and there are now dozens of e-book platforms.  While the number of people switching to reading digital books is rapidly on the rise, there is still been a major hurdle the transmedia revolution needs to overcome: the book itself.

This is the first concrete sign we’ve had that heralds a new age in interactive communication; not because these books are available on an iPad (or any other device), but because authors finally have access to the tools they need to create this new kind of content.  And these tools are affordable (free) and easy to use.

For years, corporations have been touting the technological advantages of e-books: the portability of massive libraries; an interactive table of contents; built-in glossaries; advanced searching and indexing; the ability to digitally mark up text and take notes; and of course, acquire new content online.

However, in spite of all these advances, there has always been a fundamental flaw hidden in the development of any kind of e-book.  As an information delivery platform, reading itself has become an outdated and inefficient technology.  As Berry Cull notes in his thesis, Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe:
When it comes to multi–purpose portable devices, the personal computing industry has predicted that sales of tablets such as the iPad will undergo enormous growth over the next few years (Paczkowski, 2010). It is noteworthy that the highest–selling e–reading device is not a dedicated e–book reader. When Apple was rumoured to be working on an e–book reader a few years ago, CEO Steve Jobs expressed his lack of interest: “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he reportedly said, continuing by stating that “40 percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore” (Markoff, 2008). Nicholas Carr (2010) has summed up Apple’s involvement in the tablet phenomenon this way: Jobs is no dummy. As a text delivery system, the iPad is perfectly suited to readers who don’t read anymore.”  (emphasis added)

Apple's Official iBook Author Walk-Through


The Devil's in the Details

While Apple has provided writers with a new tool that  makes the transmedia revolution possible, there are some big strings attached to this amazing program. While iBook Author is free to use, these digital books will only be available for sale on iTunes.  Apple will keep the distribution rights to your work.  Once you publish with iBook Author, your material cannot appear in print, or any other online bookstore.

This is most certainly a case of the carrot and the stick. Apple is hoping this new platform will encourage a wellspring of unique content creation that no other eBook platform will be able to rival.  And they are protecting their investment by making sure none of their competitors will have access to it.

However, all might not go as Apple has planned...

In the next few months, several alternative tools will become available to transmedia storytellers who just don't like the nasty copyright worm Apple has hidden in their software.

The Atavist Platform offers an enhanced e-book publishing alternative for iBook Author; and because it’s open source, you keep the rights to your work.  It's still going through final beta-testing, but according to their website, it can publish to almost any e-book platform--including the iPad.  However, I’m curious if it’s going to be as easy to use as Apple’s offering, and if it will offer as many features.  Another developing tool I have my eye on is Graphicly, which specializes in visual storytelling.

The Atavist Platform for Transmedia Storytelling

The Transmedia Revolution is now underway, and other platforms and tools will soon be on the horizon.  The manner in which we read and consume our information is in for some very big changes in the coming decade.  But one thing will always remain constant--mankind's need hear, read, and watch stories unfold.

-- Peter Usagi
Transmedia Storyteller

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