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interactive books

ARGs and interactive books: Evan Jones interview

Evan Jones is the founder of Stitch Media, an interactive media production services company focused on telling stories using new technology and timeless techniques. Evan is also the creator of Together Tales, a new platform which brings reading, games and real-life activities together. Here Stephanie Cox interviews him.

1) Tell us a little bit about your background and career

Early in my career I became obsessed with Alternate Reality Games. ARGs are a style of narrative that really couldn’t exist before the internet, because they rely on the audience as investigators who connect different types of media together to make a complete story. They’re also intensely interactive and the best ones consider the audience as collaborators – their theories and solutions inspire the creative team working behind the scenes.

I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with incredibly talented people on projects across every genre. We’ve worked in comedy, drama, documentary, horror, science fiction, children’s, lifestyle – but always with an interactive point of view. Stitch Media is the company that you call when you want to push the boundaries. I’m always working hard to stay ahead of the curve on new technology but more importantly the media trends that are shifting around us.

2) Together Tales – what’s the premise?

Together Tales are Adventure Kits that combine physical books and artifacts with interactive challenges. Parents bring these stories to life as an insider working with the author to plant clues and create coincidences.

For kids aged 8-10 reading the adventures, it’s like the whole story surrounds you. You are a character in the books and your actions end up saving the day. We’ve had a lot of feedback that this product is perfect for ‘reluctant readers’ because it’s broken into short chapters that connect with activities both offline and online.

For parents, it’s like having a creative sidekick for those moments where you want to want to play along with your kids but don’t always have the time or energy to make it up. Adventure Kits give you all the tools you need and simple instructions via email to prompt you at the perfect moment. You’re playing alongside your kids with a cheat sheet from the author.

together tales

3) What made you, as a media and TV professional, look at the idea of interactive books? How did the idea and the concept of Together Tales come about?

We didn’t set out to make an interactive book. Our company never starts with the technology first. It’s that old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Instead we started with a question: “How can recreate some of our fondest memories of childhood?”

We loved reading books, of course – books are imagination fireworks where you can do anything at all. We also loved simple games like scavenger hunts and puzzles. But the secret ingredient is the name of our product – it was those moments we spent together.

Together Tales is a platform to combine all of these things. We rely upon an ‘Insider’ who truly knows the reader. We use the shorthand of parents but it could easily be grandparents or that cool uncle or an amazing teacher. The point is that our adventures come to life in through others – they are the ones who personalise a letter online, print it out and tuck it under the child’s pillow because they received an automated email yesterday explaining that the Magician will be answering their dream questions tomorrow. It’s a system to make more of those memorable moments by connecting them together with a story.

4) What kind of success have you enjoyed so far?

Our first success was convincing a jury to give us the CMF Experimental Fund – it allowed us to build the technology and test the concept until we got it right. The one thing we needed after that was the money to pay for our first print run. We created four Adventure Kits in our first year and launched the concept on Kickstarter – that was really when Together Tales took off. We’ve shipped hundreds of kits out to families now and the response has been incredible. The five-star reviews on Amazon have really inspired us – parents talk about how excited their kids get about reading the stories and their adventures.

It’s also been a huge boost for us to be recognised by our industry. We were nominated for the BookTech prize in the UK this year and for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Interactive Project. These endorsements help a great deal in promoting sales.

5) Anything that has been particularly challenging?

Our biggest challenge is everyone’s biggest challenge – discoverability. Our target demographic is parents with 8-10 year old kids and I’m one of them. It’s a very busy and distracted group of customers and we don’t have a marketing budget to spend yet. We know that families love the product but we haven’t yet mastered the way we reach that audience.

6) Why do you think there’s a market for this kind of publishing?

Publishing is not going away. Yes it’s changing but all of the media industries shift when a new paradigm appears. We know this is a crowded market but we feel that Together Tales is something truly new and will strike a chord with the right type of customer.

Together Tales is also built to empower authors to write their own Adventure Kits. Our platform expands with every new book as we build a library of games and technology which are reused in subsequent stories. They’re also not tied to a particular platform. We’re not thinking about the issues of paper vs tablets because we use them all in the way they were intended. Media consumption habits for us aren’t an either/or proposition, they’re all potential for us.

7) Have you found that you have been able to reach out easily to children who may not be particularly enthusiastic about reading?

Together Tales is very accessible because the story is portioned out. The child never sees a huge book because the story is divided into chapters and interactive moments. The first chapter looks like a comic book, but once you’ve read it you’re hooked. The characters need your help and a game begins. It’s not hard to convince kids to play games but when the game is over you want to see how it affected the story. That’s when the second chapter magically appears (thanks parents!) and the cycle continues.

To read the full interview, head over to Stephanie’s blog: Words are my Craft.

 

 

kindle

Kindle Instant Preview reinforces Amazon’s dominance

Ebook preview widgets have been around for quite awhile but when was the last time you saw one on a blog or website? I can’t recall the last one I saw but I’ll bet that’s about to change.

Amazon recently released their Kindle Instant Previews widget in the US, and it does what its name suggests. In short, this tool makes it incredibly easy to embed or share an ebook sample on a web page or via email. The fact that it’s offered by the biggest ebook platform on the planet means it’s well positioned for success.

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skills for publishing

A cyber challenge for 2016

This is a guest post from Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License, on publishing and the growing risk of cyber attacks.

On the back of my last blog post, it was interesting to read a comment made at the recent FutureBook Conference by HarperCollins UK CEO Charlie Redmayne when he urged publishers “living in a rose-tinted world” to beware the threat of cyber attacks which are “increasingly sophisticated and are happening all the time”.

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The new must-have tool for publishers? Media monitoring

Gone are the days when publishers can rest on their laurels. With disruptive players creating a new environment of competitiveness within the sector, there has never been a greater need for vigilance regarding new developments, both with an eye on potential threats and to exploit competitive advantages.

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Content is no longer king. Here are 5 things that are.

This is a guest post by Nick Robinson. Nick has worked in ELT publishing since 2004 and in 2012 he founded the world’s first ELT author representation agency. He is the Co-founder of the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) and ELTjam.

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membership economy

Picturing the future of the book

This is a guest post from Alison Jones. Alison is a business and executive coach, content consultant and publisher. After a 23-year career in trade and scholarly publishing working with major publishers such as Oxford University Press and Macmillan, during which she pioneered digital publishing, she set up Alison Jones Business Services and the Practical Inspiration Publishing imprint in 2014.

Taking a picture with a camera used to be a tightly constrained process. Only the photographer, with the benefit of the viewfinder, could see what it might look like. Once the shutter clicked the picture was taken, for better or worse, and when it was developed and printed – and there was a cost, an entire industry associated with that process – the act of creation was complete. At that point it entered the pre-internet social ecosystem – tucked into a proud granny’s purse to show to strangers on a bus, framed on a mantelpiece, sent off to distant relatives, archived in an album, duplicated, enlarged maybe, but ultimately always defined by its physical constraints.

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Self-employed in publishing

Ahead of the Curve: What RPG publishers have to teach the mainstream


This weekend saw one of Britain’s largest annual meetings of leisure games enthusiasts at the 2015 UK Games Expo in Birmingham. Amongst the 14,000 attendees (up 20% from last year) were some were some of the most successful Roleplaying Game (RPG) publishers in the industry, showing that this niche, with its many curious quirks, has a lot to teach the mainstream about publishing in the digital age.

What are RPGs?

There are many different kinds of RPG, but the ones which concern us here are tabletop and live action RPGs. In these games, players get together and take on characters, acting them out within a narrative lead by the Game Master (GM), who guides the party on adventures through their chosen setting. Games take place in sessions and can be one-offs or ongoing sagas.

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Self-employed in publishing

AI Authors: Who owns the rights to the future?

This is a guest post from Jasmin Kirkbride. Jasmin is a regular blogger for BookMachine and Editorial Assistant at Periscope Books (part of Garnet Publishing). She is also a published author and you can find her on Twitter @jasminkirkbride

We need to talk about AIs, algorithms and Rights. Over the next decade or two these issues are only going to become more prominent and will likely become major concerns for the Publishing industry.

AI authors – fact, not fiction!

On Thursday, Publishing Perspectives posted an article on possibility that AIs will soon writing our books for us.

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5 Questions for Miral Sattar from Bibliocrunch [INTERVIEW]

Host of November’s BookMachine NYC, Bree Weber, talks to speaker on the night Miral Sattar, founder of BiblioCrunch.

Grab your tickets for BookMachine NYC here.

1. What’s your background and how did you get involved in the publishing industry?
I’m an engineer by background, love to write and publish, and also love help other people publish. So, obviously, a natural fit for me would be to combine all three into my own company.

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John Pettigrew

On-screen proofing comes of age

This is a guest post from John Pettigrew, CEO of FutureProofs.

At Futureproofs we’ve spent the past year creating a solution to a problem that most editors and proofreaders recognise. Handling book proofs on paper works very nicely, but it’s a bit slow and cumbersome, it’s often hard to read, and it’s surprisingly expensive. Many companies have moved to PDF proofing to save money, but the available tools are laughably poorly designed for this job and make the process take longer. The reason for this, of course, is that they weren’t designed for this job at all but just for basic annotation!

So, at the Frankfurt Book Fair on 8 October, we’re launching Futureproofs. This is our solution to these problems, designed by editors for editors. We hope that it will help publishing teams create quality books more cheaply and quickly. A browser-based platform, it addresses the problems I mentioned above by providing three key advantages over the current options.

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The Digital Challenge: Disintermediation [AN EXTRACT FROM ‘THE CONTENT MACHINE’]

This is an extract from The Content Machine: Towards a Theory of Publishing from the Printing Press to the Digital Network, by Michael  Bhaskar.

 

In conversation with publishers, one sometimes gets the sense disintermediation – a cutting out or unbundling of publishers from the literary value chain – isn’t taken seriously. Publishers assume they’ll always be wanted and needed and that their imprimatur means any attempt to disintermediate will be at worst equivocal, at best footnotes in the grand history of the written word.

Such thinking is mistaken. Papyrus workers, scribes, rubricators, hot metal typesetters and even map publishers probably all once thought themselves relatively secure, yet they have all been rendered irrelevant by new technology. For publishing, digital technology is an ‘out-of-context’ problem: like the Conquistadors in America being technologically more advanced and following imperatives incomprehensible to the indigenous population. Even recognising the true nature of the problem isn’t obvious. It can’t be couched in the usual terms.

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5 Questions for Emma Barnes [INTERVIEW]

emmabarnes

Emma Barnes has spent ten years at the helm of an award-winning independent trade publisher, Snowbooks. Nowadays she uses her understanding of the realities of modern publishing to build publishing management software, Bibliocloud. Emma is our speaker at BookMachine Oxford on 25th September, and will be sharing her thoughts on how to publish profitably without the benefit of a warehouse full of cash – using technology, data and pride. Charly Ford interviews Emma for BookMachine.

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