Exploring the Possibilities of Digital Storytelling

by Emily Wells

Publishers can be ambivalent when it comes to digital products; both excited by the possibilities and concerned about return on investment. But the ever increasing accessibility of technology means there is little excuse to sit back and wait till we’re brave enough.

One of our MA students gives her summary of the recent Oxford Publishing Society event hosted at Brookes.

Narrative...Text...What next? Transmedia publishing in a Brave New World

On the 20th November at Oxford Brookes University, Dave Fletcher of White October, Emily Short and Graham Nelson of Linden Lab, game developer Richard Fine, and Jen Porter and Kirk Bowe of Beyond the Story, came together to explore the spectrum of digital storytelling.

Dave Fletcher began the discussion by suggesting that although publishers tend to obsess over the possibilities and profitability of apps, it’s worthwhile to step back and explore the potential of old school HTML. Unlike apps and ebooks where constant changes in hardware mean content is outdated very quickly, HTML has proved its longevity and is full of untapped opportunity for development. Digital storytelling such as the journalistic project Snow Fall from the New York Times combines text with integrated video to prove what HTML can do.

Another example of browser based interactive narrative came from the people behind Linden Lab. Graham Nelson spoke about Inform, intuitive software that allows non-programmers to code interactive fiction and invite readers into a  world where their choices and decisions play a pivotal role in the action. Emily Short, a writer who showcases what can be achieved with Inform, gave insight on how interactive fiction has more to do with exploring further into a text that simply controlling the fate of a character. Choices give the reader the opportunity to explore the story in more depth and really investigate a character, going well beyond what a print book can offer a reader.

No storytelling medium gives more choice than games, and developer Richard Fine demonstrated that the recent successes of indie game developers could have something to teach publishers. Technology is becoming easier to access; it’s possible for one person acting alone to make a game that sells well. If this is possible for hugely complex mediums such as games, then this is a call to action for publishers struggling with the relatively simpler technology of apps and ebooks.

Another challenge for publishers wanting to develop digital products is which software skills and publishing tools to train their staff in, but this is where Jen Porter and Kirk Bowe pitched their new product. BTS Publisher Plus is software that exports your app or ebook onto all major platforms, ‘a full transmedia publishing solution’. Jen insisted on the importance of harnessing technology for a competitive edge and of steering focus away from the concept of ‘brave new world’; technology is merely a natural evolution of the industry. Publishers are no longer in the process of publishing books, but of publishing authors.

Publishing has a long way to go if it is to compete seriously in the technological world, and Jen suggested that there is more talk than action when it comes to digitalisation. Talk takes time, and it’s not long till our latest tablets and smartphones are too outdated to run old stories. Perhaps, as Dave suggested, going back to reliable HTML and rediscovering its potential is a way forward for publishers without the resources to cope with apps and games, or maybe new initiatives like Publisher Plus can kick start a digital strategy. Time is needed to discover whether these ventures are going to be profitable; the panel only briefly touched on the uncertain returns of such projects.

It’s difficult to take the chance on potentially unsustainable projects, but the importance of anticipating technologically literate audiences means we have little choice but to jump in.

About the author of this article

Emily Wells is studying for an MA Digital Publishing and writes at www.techpoet.org and on twitter about technology and storytelling

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 27 Nov 2013 around 5pm

Last edited: 14 02 2014