While I was deep in NaNoWriMo and running guest posts, a story circulated about how the release of a multimedia fiction ebook was a “game changer.” (Full disclosure: I tend to roll my eyes at such breathless headlines. *smile*) But beyond my eye-rolling, I want to talk about whether multimedia ebooks could be the wave of the future for fiction.
In any profession, we have to stay on top of industry changes, and publishing is no different. Authors have had to adjust to the rise of self-publishing and the opportunities that option brings us. We’ve had to adjust to the increasing importance of branding and taking on more marketing responsibilities. And we’ve had to adjust to the social media tools available for reaching readers directly.
So it’s in our best interest to have a conversation about whether storytelling will evolve into multimedia ebooks as the primary medium. Let’s take a closer look…
The Background: What Is a Multimedia Ebook?
The terms “interactive” and “multimedia” usually refer to ebooks that include elements such as:
- images and maps
- “extended editions” or deleted scenes (like DVDs)
- embedded audio/video
- in-book glossary/encyclopedia entries, etc.
Despite the breathless press, the story lauded as the “game changer,” Find Me I’m Yours, by Hillary Carlip, wasn’t the first interactive, multimedia ebook. Different platforms have included interactive and multimedia aspects for children’s books for at least a decade, and I bought my first interactive “choose your own adventure” style Kindle book almost three years ago.
However, this ebook is the first to embrace this path to such a large extent, with custom videos, images, original artwork, 33 websites, etc. (You can scroll through the Amazon Look Inside free sample to get an idea of its scope.)
Is this the future for all books? Some say yes. But is it really?
Obstacle #1: Who Has the Ability to Develop All of That?
Writing a book is already a heck of a lot of work. Adding multimedia pieces just adds that much more work and would take time and skills that we might not have.
How many of us would have the ability to create custom fictional websites to fit our story world—and be able to maintain them? Or the ability to find and photograph or record the people or places to embed in the story?
Now I could see some genres, such as fantasy, including the maps that the author already made for their own notes. Ditto for “deleted scenes” and the like. But while many of us have Pinterest boards for inspiration, we don’t have the rights to publish those images in a book.
In other words, it’s one thing to share elements we’ve already developed. It’s another thing to create and develop elements in addition to what we needed for our storytelling process. And if we don’t have the time or ability to develop multimedia elements, we’d have to pay someone to do it for us.
Obstacle #2: Who Can Afford to Develop All of That?
In the case of this “game changer,” Hillary and her entertainment company spent $400,000 to develop all of the custom elements. What author has that kind of money? Or what author wouldn’t rather their publisher spent that money on an advance? *smile*
Hillary and her company financed the development work by negotiating payment for product placement in the story. The company behind an artificial sweetener paid $1.3 million for the right to have positive information about their product included in the story and to sponsor one of the websites. The story includes many other brand names, and the author’s entertainment company is in negotiations with other companies, presumably for the inevitable sequel.
Obstacle #3: Wait, Our Stories Become a Commercial?
In other words, negotiating this payment for funding the multimedia development isn’t something most authors could do—even if we wanted to. Many have already weighed in with their thoughts about the ethics of product placement and the commercialization of storytelling.
In this case, even though the main character quotes company-provided research statistics for health claims about the artificial sweetener product, the book doesn’t reveal the payment connection in footnotes or a mention on the copyright page. Needless to say, arrangements for product placement leave a bad taste in the mouth of many authors and readers, and without that financing, we’re back to the problems listed in #1 and #2 above.
So if we don’t have the money, clout, connections, time, skills, resources, etc. to create multimedia ebooks, should we be worried? Will we be be left behind in the future?
Obstacle #4: Most Stories Don’t Fit the Multimedia Structure
In the story mentioned above, the storytelling structure itself was changed to accommodate the multimedia elements. The story wouldn’t make sense if printed, or even if read on an older ereader. Some stories will work with a multimedia structure, but most won’t.
Stories that don’t lend themselves to a multimedia structure won’t disappear, just as the “choose your own adventure” structure didn’t banish traditional storytelling. Multimedia-driven stories can only become an option, not a requirement.
Far more likely is that normal stories would offer multimedia bonuses. Fantasy stories might include a link to a map. Science fiction stories might include a schematic of the spaceship. Mystery stories might include copies of the clues so the reader can try to solve the case along with the detective. But are bonuses really a game changer?
Obstacle #5: Do Readers Even Want Multimedia Ebooks?
As a reader, I read stories to become immersed. Anything that pulls me out of the story is a bad thing.
For me, that includes storytelling issues, poor writing craft, and obvious product placement, but it also includes multimedia elements. When, exactly, is a reader supposed to explore these multimedia bonuses?
Am I supposed to interrupt my reading of the story to check out this website or that song or video? Will I have to look at this map or that schematic to follow along because the author was lazy and decided to skip the written description? If so, I’ve lost immersion into the story.
Or would these multimedia aspects be explored after the story (like the deleted scenes on a DVD)? In that case, I don’t think multimedia becomes a game changer because all that’s doing is including the bonuses we’d usually see on an author’s website within the book itself. Eh. Whatever.
My Verdict? Not a Game Changer
I can see a few, select styles of stories embracing multimedia to the fullest extent, but I don’t ever see multimedia becoming the dominant storytelling structure. There are too many stories in the world that won’t lend themselves to the multimedia structure, and those stories won’t go untold.
Storytelling has existed forever—since caveman days—and our brains are far more wired to relate to stories than anything else. Written language didn’t kill verbal storytelling, and multimedia isn’t a bigger game changer than writing itself. So multimedia can’t make all other forms of storytelling obsolete.
Multimedia is a storytelling option now and in the future, but it’s not “the future of storytelling” or the direction that all storytelling will go. Developing multimedia elements in addition to what the author naturally creates takes too much time, costs too much money, and too often doesn’t make sense from a storytelling perspective.
If we take the “Ooo, shiny” technological terms out of the description, multimedia stories are essentially listening to a storyteller who constantly interrupts themselves with tangents. If a friend started telling us about an important thing that happened during their trip to the beach, and they interrupted themselves to show us a map of the boardwalk and play music they’d recorded from a beach-side club patio, we’d want them to get on with the story: “Yes, but what happened?” In other words, in real life, I’d want to smack a storyteller who acted this way. *smile*
Right now, there is an “Ooo, shiny” aspect to multimedia, and readers are excitedly exploring the possibilities just as much as authors. However, multimedia won’t be accepted long-term unless it seamlessly enhances the storytelling itself. In other words, the multimedia elements must serve the storytelling, not the other way around.
Whether we choose to incorporate multimedia or not, storytelling itself doesn’t change. As long as we’re able to tell a good story, the medium doesn’t matter. *smile*
A cranky, old-school reader who wants to remain immersed in the story, no matter how it’s told… *grin*
How much do multimedia books interest you? Do some kinds of multimedia ebooks interest you more than others, and if so, why? Can you think of other obstacles for incorporating multimedia into books? How do you feel about using product placement to finance multimedia development for ebooks? Do you agree or disagree with my theory of storytelling and how multimedia won’t be a game changer for the evolution of all books?Pin It