A while ago I wrote about how I was able to download the first book in Richard House’s multimedia thriller The Kills for free, just by sending out a tweet. I wondered at the time if The Kills multimedia format – in which videos are embedded in the digital download – was the future for books, but apparently I haven’t seen anything yet!
This week Mills & Boon launched The Chatsfield – a fictional online hotel which the publisher claims “has taken traditional storytelling and turned it on its head.”
The Chatsfield online hotel is the companion to a set of eight traditional M&B novels released this week, all of which tell stories involving characters from the hotel. Readers who visit the The Chatsfield online will get to meet a further range of characters such as the hotel’s assistant manager, a mysterious barman, and a chambermaid/escort, who keeps an online blog in real time. The online characters’ stories will be developed on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, and readers are encouraged to interact by email and tweets, etc. Mills & Boon have said that they will develop the characters that users interact with the most, and if the online hotel is a success there will be a second set of novels.
This whole online world is a step far beyond that of the multimedia novel. As the people at M&B say, “A digital story isn’t just an ebook or an ebook with hyperlinks or video added.” They’ve taken the idea of the multimedia novel and developed it even further, to appeal to contemporary readers who spend a vast amount of time online. Jo Kite, Mills & Boon’s marketing manager, said the project was “totally new”, and that “no publisher has done anything like this before with transmedia storytelling – it’s a global first”.
Here are a few of my thoughts on this imaginative project:
- I admire M&B for their inventiveness. The choice of hotel as setting is perfect, with its glamour and the possibility of introducing a host of characters and different storylines. Apparently writing is all about interaction with the reader these days, and this initiative takes that interaction to a whole new level.
- I’ve very curious to know how this project will develop. Personally, as a reader this whole online thing isn’t for me. I prefer to get a book and immerse myself in the story, without the distraction of FB and Twitter and online images interrupting my own imagination. M&B have been losing a younger readership, though, and I feel this is designed for younger women than I am. Will they go for it? I’m agog to find out!
- As a writer, I’m quite disheartened to think that this is the future. M&B is a massive operation, even bigger now it’s part of the Murdoch empire. They have the money to experiment with this format, and if it’s successful, where will that leave indie authors and smaller publishing houses? If readers expect an online world for all their novels in the future, the only way writers will be able to make a living will be as part of a big corporate world that can provide the infrastructure.
- The core of The Chatsfield, for me, has to be the set of six novels that have been released in the normal way. The online world should be an added extra to the books. I downloaded one of the books in the series, and I have to say I’ve read much better from M&B. The writing felt rushed and lacked polish, as though the author were racing towards a deadline. And that could very well have been the case, if release had to coincide with the launch of the online world. I’d absolutely hate it if online fictional worlds – no matter how inventive – became more important than the books themselves. It’s what my friend calls “the tail wagging the dog”.
What do you think? Would you enjoy spending time in the online Chatsfield, and would you take the time to interact with the characters through Twitter and FB? Do you think this is the future of storytelling? An imaginative idea, or just a gimmick? I’d love to know your opinion on this, and where you think the world of reading is going. Any comments, please let me know!