We used to call them ‘the audience’ but now they don’t behave as we expect audiences to. They’re active, they’re vocal, and they’re engaged. They have multiple options and channels, voices and media. They want do everything and have a say in everything on their terms. And many of them don’t want to pay for it by following the traditional publishing business models.
We are all the audience for something. We live in exciting times as an audience, we are being courted and sought after with suitors from all forms of media. We are encouraged to enter and explore created worlds through multiple entry points. Using American TV show Fringe as a case study Mélanie Bourdaa discussed how audiences engage across multiple media to follow story arcs in ‘Following the Pattern’: The Creation of an Encyclopaedic Universe with Transmedia Storytelling.’ A key, and very influential strategy and theory she suggests is Henry Jenkins’ Transmedia Storytelling . It allows us to engage with a writer/designer’s vision on multiple levels, as much or as little as we want. The key thing here is that we can choose to become really involved, going beyond the ordinary level of engagement for an audience.
It is not all about the audience, these are equally exciting times for writers and creators. You can imagine your story in people’s social media, in games, in books and on the TV. A story can have an active following, conversations happening in real time, apps can help access it and live experiences can draw in a completely other group of people or enhance the feeling of belonging that a community has.
Authors can choose how they want to share their book experience with their audience; they can choose to have their characters tweet, such as Goran Racic tweeting as his hero Thomas Loud from his book ‘Loud Evolution.’ Not stopping there he has created a whole district in Minecraft where visitors can explore his world. Little by little the book world that we enjoy enters into our real world, to come with us to the office, the gym or while we wait in a Tesco Metro queue.
But at what point does this audience become a community? A dedicated group of people that are interested enough not just to buy the story in its multiple forms but to spend the time to influence the plot on many of these digital platforms, following the success that gaming has enjoyed where players can influence or even change the storylines within certain parameters . Let’s face it, those of us that are old enough to remember them loved those old multi-branching adventure books where you could make decisions and those choices took you to different pages of the book.
The main problem that authors, designers and marketers face with all of this participation is money – where does all the money come from to create these great experiences. Audiences want so much for free now. The kickstarter model has proved a great launch pad for creative projects. The backers are the people that actually want the creative product and so are happy to fund it. The audience becomes the backers becomes the community.
I enjoyed Naomi Alderman’s, Rebecca Levene’s and Adrian Hon’s Zombie Run! in this way, an audio adventure while you get fit. I like the idea, backed it through kickstarter and then became part of a community of runners, though not the fastest of runners I am a happy runner enjoying a story and getting a little fitter along the way. Intriguing a potential audience sufficiently that it then becomes a community and is prepared to pay for it is a hard model to follow and necessitates creating work with no guarantee of return. This is only one of business model out there that author/ designers/ filmmakers and publishers are using.
Fallen London with its steampunk aesthetic is equally captivating, a browser-based game in which every choice you make changes the storyline. It is free to play but the business model choice to keep it that way means it is delivered in little chunks. However, the community that Failbetter builds through this sharing will potentially go on to buy Sunless Sea, or The Night Circus or buy pure narrative premium content such as The Gift.
For the upcoming Creative Conversations panel on March 2nd , the next part of our Creative Conversations New Space of Publishing series, we start to tease out this very subject. ‘Building Reader Communities’ will question what distinguishes a community from an audience, and if writers and publishers need to build such communities and what they could gain from doing so. We also want to unpick what the implications are for the writer-reader and publisher-reader relationship when the business model changes and the community is so much more in control of the creative product.
Our panellists will include: Auriol Bishop & Alex Pheby, co-directors of Greenwich Book Festival; Meike Ziervogel, novelist and founder of Peirene Press; Alexis Kennedy, CEO of in interactive fiction studio Failbetter Games; and a commissioned video featuring Kate Russell, tech reporter and author of ‘Elite: Mostly Harmless’, a sci-fi novel based in the Elite Game World.
It promises to be an interesting evening of discussion and places can be reserved through Eventbrite.
Featured image Winter Kaleidoscope by Dr-Wolf0014 on Deviant Art