What Today's Ebooks and Movies "Optimized" for the Web Have in Common With Antiquated Railway Cars

The New World of storytelling isn't just about putting the existing forms of content (e.g., books and movies) online and making them accessible ("optimized") for mobile platforms.

That may be a necessary transitional step. But, based on prior paradigm shifts, it's unlikely that "optimized" Old World content will be the last word in content evolution.

Like the early railway cars that were simply stagecoaches with new wheels for riding on rails (see above), I suspect that today's web series and ebooks will look hopelessly antiquated (and perhaps even quaint) to us in just a few years.

Most of today's online storytelling experiences for mobile devices - simply recreating the passive experience of watching TV, sitting in a movie theater or reading a book on a much smaller screen - aren't fully taking advantage of the platform's interactivity and mobility.

But there are numerous experiments unfolding online - testing all sorts of theories and ideas about ways of making the online experience it's own commercial and repeatable thing. For example, would entertainment be enhanced if technology allowed each user "to add dynamic story elements to each chapter" of a motion picture story? What if [as described in a June 5th, 2013 techcrunch article] each time "viewers re-watch a chapter, they see or hear different things that add new layers to the narrative?"

June 24th, 2013 Chicago Tribune article discusses such a recent attempt at commercializing and utilizing the interactivity of the online platform through a distinctively New World form of serialized content: "Haunting Melissa" is a "creepy ghost film about a girl who is being haunted by her dead mother" produced by an Old World cinema veteran Neal Edelstein (producer of Hollywood films including "The Ring" and "Mulholland Dr.").

What makes "Haunting Melissa" a New World experience?

It's the fact that repeat viewings of the content will reveal new content - changing the experience based on the user's prior behavior.

Yes "the episodes [of "Haunting Melissa are also] rolled out at irregular intervals, and could just as easily pop up at 4 a.m. Saturday as at 2 p.m. Monday... [so] the next episode could land five days after the previous one, or five minutes... '[l]ikewise, the show plays with episode length as well — varying the time anywhere between 20 seconds to 20 minutes."

But what makes the "Haunting Melissa" app feel less like an Old World experience adapted awkwardly to the New World - like a stagecoach on rails -  is that (per the Chicago Tribune) "each episode changes with subsequent views. [Producer Neal] Edelstein calls these subtle shifts — in which an audio or visual element will disappear and then possibly reappear later — "dynamic story elements.""

It remains to be seen whether this shape-shifting potential of online storytelling takes hold with an audience.  But it's a start... a start that marks "Haunting Melissa" as more than just a series of Old Word episodes for your phone.

One final question: What's the revenue model for "Haunting Melissa?"

That's new too - and it may present a barrier to success: "A "season pass" to all 11 or so episodes of "Haunting Melissa" costs $14.99, about the price of a movie ticket, or about two months of streaming Netflix. Episodes can also be bought a la carte as well, for 99 cents, or $1.99 in HD." 

Why is that revenue model potentially a barrier to success?

After all... users will go to the app store and pay for games - although the greatest revenue seems to flow from freemium and sponsored content.  

The revenue hurdle for "Haunting Melissa?"  

Users have apparently been somewhat reluctant to pay up-front for individual motion pictures for their mobile devices. The logic seems to be that purchasing motion picture experiences one-by-one for mobile devices doesn't make sense, when potential customers are already subscribing to Netflix and can get YouTube on their iPhones and tablets for free. 

Thanks to Wilson Chan for the link to "Haunting Melissa."

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