The Power of Digital Books with Transmedia
The Power of Digital Books with Transmedia
Bill Thompson from the BBC Archives has said that print and digital books are very different animals, with very dissimilar life cycles and potential. He put it this way:
“A print book sits there. It will contain the same words every time you open it. A book is outside the stream. Like a neutrino, it rarely interacts with the world or interferes with the thoughts of even a single reader. This is its merit and its damnation…It is printed, dead, done with. Furniture.
“An ebook is a file, and because it’s just a file an ebook is never finished, an ebook is never cleanly separated from the rest of the flow of bits, an ebook is active, part of a wider ecosystem.”
Bingo. “Part of a wider ecosystem” is exactly what Sumbola sees as the key distinction, the catalyst in the separation between a print and digital book. So, what defines this wider ecosystem?
In our view, it’s a mixture of five key ingredients:
1. The content hub itself—usually a novel, short story or nonfiction book, but could also be an article like this one.
2. User-generated content in the form of highlights, notes, comments and reviews.
3. Transmedia elements, which in the case of Sumbola, means art, music, wiki content, social media feeds, video, etc.
4. Collaboration and contributing to the success of a project.
5. Data transparency to the authors and the readership.
Changing times. Changing brains.
The old school of publishing remains fixated on the print book, and for good reason, it is their core business. However, if publishers remain focused on the print book and only dabble in the digital, they may not see and fully appreciate what is happening in the world that is so rapidly changing around them.
An article in the Washington Post, written by Michael Rosenwald, put it this way: “I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,” said Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.
“If the rise of nonstop cable TV news gave the world a culture of sound bites, the Internet,” Wolf said, “is bringing about an eye-byte culture.” Time spent online—on desktop and mobile devices—was expected to top five hours per day in 2013 for U.S. adults, according to eMarketer, which tracks digital behavior. That’s up from three hours in 2010.
People are spending more time connected to the digital domain, and they’re reading, but in a different way. They’re skimming information, connecting dots in new ways, looking for visual and cerebral connections, going in deep in one area, and shallow in another. They’re missing the advantage of deep reading. Of experiencing the written word with their imaginations fully engaged.
Deep reading requires deep attention. The experience of skimming 3-5 hours a day, hunting and pecking for “eye-bytes” may actually stunt our ability to give deep attention to the written word; the kind that’s crafted by its author to hold subtle meaning. As Wolf suggests in her book, our brain’s circuitry might actually be adapting to its near-constant interaction with the digital landscape.
Why transmedia is important to storytelling
Then there’re the worlds of music and video and images. These worlds are seductive in their own right. They can wrestle our attention away from reading or support it. That’s the whole point of Sumbola’s single-platform transmedia: bring the music, video, and images (and more) to the written work. Enable the digital book or article to be more. To live as a dynamic outgrowth of the readers who’re inspired to contribute to it, whether that might be music, articles, notes, reviews, video, social media, wiki references, geolocations, etc.
Let me return to the notion of the five ingredients, and take each one individually, giving it a little more detail.
Number 1—On Sumbola the content hub or book/article is published in a cloud-based reading environment that has user empowerments and learning accelerators like a built-in dictionary, thesaurus, and word translator. This environment also has social aspects that allow the user to read others’ notes or comments and even connect with them socially. Vertical communities can evolve from this that we call Communities of Shared Interest (CoSI®).
Number 2—the user generated content is typically in the form of highlights, page notes, chapter comments and reviews. Highlighting a book online is easy and others can see your highlights (if you enable them). Only in the digital world, however, can I write a note and share it with other readers of that book. My knowing or belief that my note might add context, value or deepen the meaning of some other reader, is a motivation to write the note in the first place. And on Sumbola’s platform we have page sync, so when I write a note on page 17, everyone who reads that note, will see it on page 17, too, no matter how large their font is or how they have set their line spacing.
Number 3—Transmedia elements are add-ons to the written word and inspire the project to be more multidimensional. They present more ways to learn about the content or subject. They also enable the readers to support the written work, collaborate with the author and share their inspirations and ideas to support the project. On Sumbola, we focus on single-platform transmedia so all media content is accessible on our platform.
Number 4—Collaboration and contribution is a key element of Sumbola. We want users to participate in the evolution and expansion of the content. It’s one thing to write an article or book and publish it on Sumbola, and it’s another thing to enhance someone else’s project by adding an image, video, geolocation, wiki info or a note. Digital content that has been “transmediafied” is more like sculpture in that you can look at it in 360-degrees, whereas a print book is more like a 2-D painting.
Number 5—Data transparency is a component of this platform, because it provides clarity to the author and readership how the project is doing, where it’s doing well and not so well, and what resonates within the book or article. We provide information about the content so everyone knows how it’s evolving, trending, where the interest is in the content, how it compares, etc. Data transparency helps the CoSI (Community of Shared Interest) to know how the book is doing over time.
The digital, single platform transmedia book is a reality on Sumbola. While we might be developing new circuits in our brains that enable us to skim the raging current of online information, we still need to have content where we can sit and do a deeper dive into a good book and see it in wider dimensions than simply text.
That’s what Sumbola hopes to bring to publishing.