The Guild defines a Transmedia Narrative project or franchise as one that consists of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms: Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.
Ok, so I'm not sure that's much clearer, although I love the bit about "technologies that may or may not currently exist." Because a transmedia storyline spans many different delivery channels, this does make it hard to categorise. But here's my condensed version:
Transmedia is about going where the kids are.
We live in an aggressively multichannel world. Books used to have to compete with just films and TV, but now there is a plethora of other distractions. And, to be fair, a plethora of opportunities for telling a story. Gone author Michael Grant's new project BZRK is being launched in a veritable transmedia blitz. Much of this is clearly marketing-led, a way of leading tech-savvy readers towards the book itself. But their plans to make money out of the additional transmedia content reflect a publishing industry keen to find new revenue streams wherever they can.
As authors, we need to be prepared for a world where our material can be repurposed in many different ways. This seems to be something especially true of children's books, as this Observer article makes clear. The launch of Pottermore has inevitably changed the landscape in terms of how children will interact with stories and how they will buy new Harry Potter content.
Writing the word "content" there gave me pause, because it's so impersonal. The risk with transmedia is that our words become simply another part of the interchangeable media landscape, another paid-for item that Apple can shove down the digital pipe towards your iPad. A book is a tangible object and it's easy to express what makes it special, what makes it different from a film or a video game. But try that with an enhanced e-book, or a picture book app. Are we moving towards a gloriously mashed-up world of narrative without barriers? Or simply a formless mush of words, images and micropayments?
My feeling here is that the answer lies in maximising the potential of each channel. If you write an app, make it do things that only an app can do. Don't be tempted to make it simply a book with a searchable index or an e-comic that makes KAPOW noises. Equally, enjoy the benefits of the long-form experience that a book provides – don't be tempted to chop it into sections for easy consumption, but instead focus on spinning a deep and involving storyline. Children won't lose the ability to concentrate providing we give them compelling reasons not to. The good news for writers is that our role is just as vital in a transmedia world, if not more so. Because, at some point, every multi-platform franchise was just a vague idea on the back of a napkin.