Telling Stories

story.jpgChances are that if your reading this blog you will have come across Penguin's grands projets, We Tell Stories. In case you haven't (where have you been?) its six digital stories and an ARG from Penguin UK and Six to Start, a funky start up that builds cool games. Enough has been said, for and against, in terms of content and conception but this piece on blog powerhouse Gawker got me thinking. Its hard to know exactly what Penguin's criterion of success in this project is- it must have cost a bomb and has no obvious revenue stream. As for traffic figures, I haven't clue. In terms of coverage I think it can definitely be considered a success and has been featured in Newsweek, USA Today and Wired amongst others despite the ARG being a UK only affair. If nothing else it has introduced many people to a new way of storytelling and pioneered digital fiction in mainstream publishing.

Gawker don't seem to like this. In the louche style characteristic of the site(s) they ask: "There's got to be a better way for publishers to get people to read more books... using actual books. Um, right?" Um, no. Because I don't think Penguin were trying to get people to read more books.

Jeremy Ettinghausen, the man behind the project and new found web celebrity, has specifically stated that the project is not about print, in fact quite the reverse, saying to Newsweek "[ebooks] are pretty much the same thing as the print book but delivered in a different way. We thought we'd try something a little more ambitious and actually develop stories designed for the Internet, not adapted to it." Rather than being about books this is specifically about moving away from them.

Fair enough. As the name suggests this is part of a view that sees publishers not just as creators of books but as curators of stories. Had this attitude been more prevalent over the past few hundred years no doubt that the media landscape would look very different today. Opportunities missed from film to gaming might have been taken and a more integrated approach to narrative entertainment prevailed.

When Gawker say "[they] have a new project to tell the stories of books online — using new media, get it? " it's the sneer of a new media company suddenly fearful that its very cutting edge newness is getting eroded by so called old media companies keen to redefine exactly what that means. Gawker suggest that they read books to get away from the internet- something I can sympathise with- but publishers are still well poised to make entertaining interventions on the web, using capacities built up from the book world to find new species of storytelling.

Publishing, in some areas at least, has been hit hard by the web. Take maps. Why buy a map when Google Maps is free? And better? The 21 Steps was an inventive use of Google Maps that in some small way marked a kind of reclamation of the space. Ok, it might not do anything in itself, but it points to a future where publishers can more than just co-exist with the web, aloof new media neighbors or no. For me that has to be a good thing.

Meanwhile you can watch the ARG evolve on the unfiction boards- as good as playing for those with no time, I tell myself.

Photo: 16/06/06 Dramatis Personae by Andrew Coulter Enright