On September 9th, 2008 Scholastic published The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. The book debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and marked the beginning of Scholastic’s 10-book experiment in transmedia publishing. On February 2nd, Scholastic is releasing the seventh installment in the series, The 39 Clues: The Viper’s Nest by Peter Lerangis. February 2nd will also mark the premiere of The Viper’s Nest audio book and the corresponding set of collectible puzzle cards in Card Pack 3: The Rise of the Madrigals.
39 Clues tells the story of two children, Amy and Dan Cahill, who are thrust into a global hunt for clues that will reveal the secret to the Cahill family’s power. The series is a cross between The Westing Game and The Amazing Race as the two children compete against members of four branches of the Cahill family to uncover the secret histories of famous Cahills including Benjamin Franklin, Anastasia Romanov, and Amelia Earhart. Although the series initially portrays their competition as cutthroat caricatures of their respective family houses, the series gradually reveals the complex motives of their fellow competitors.
While the story is primarily told through the books, each novel serves as a launching pad for further exploration, as a number of clues are hidden within each book’s pages. For instance, in The Maze of Bones, a series of apparently misnumbered pages spells out a secret message that aids the reader in solving a puzzle on one of the six collectible cards that came with the book. By going to the 39 Clues website, the reader can complete a puzzlesolving mission culminating in an online game that explains the message. Alternatively, by buying and solving puzzle cards expansion packs from the series, players can discover the 39 clues for themselves and reveal more of the Cahill family history. The story also branches through products ranging from a board game to Madrigal Maze, an iPhone application. Read more
The idea of cross-media convergence is anything but a new concept. In the introduction to Rethinking Media Change, media studies scholar Henry Jenkins noted that in the 11th century, the Bayeux tapestry “combined both text and images, and was explicated in spoken sermons–a multi-media bridge between the oral culture of the peasants and the learned culture of the monasteries.” Many novelists are rediscovering the joys of crafting stories that go beyond the book in some form.
Back in December, Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo predicted that “[i]n the future and especially in 2009, the books that are popular will be much more interactive between the reader and the book.” Her theory will be tested over the next few months, as a plethora of cross-media books are hitting local retailers near you. If you’re interested in exploring a potential future for the publishing industry, here are a few recommendations of books that use cross-media elements to enrich the narrative.
On May 4, Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart released the third and final book in a series of cross-media novels about an ordinary teenaged girl and her not-so-ordinary boyfriend. Each book comes with an evidence packet that continues the story through a series of clues that the novel’s protagonist encountered, in addition to intricate doodles in the margins. Some clues add depth to the story, while others forshadow the shocking revelations in future books. The first book in the series came under fire from consumer activists for its cross-promotional arrangement with Cover Girl.
Hot on the heels of the launch of the novel series The 39 Clues and its significant online experience aimed at young readers, Scholastic is working together with author M.G. Harris to create an extended experience for the second book in her series “The Joshua Files”, named ICE SHOCK.
“The Joshua Files” is a book series aimed at young readers 10+ years of age, much like 39 Clues. Harris’ first book, Invisible City, was released Feb 4, 2008 in the UK as the first book of this series. Harris drops hints about the upcoming novel and ARG in her website’s blog for her fans – she even asks if they’d rather hear more about Ice Shock‘s upcoming plot, or rumours about the alternate reality game. Harris and Scholastic plan to launch the ARG in March of 2009, and until then, she’ll be keeping her fans occupied and interested with teasers and contests.
At the time of this writing, Harris is running a contest for a bound proof of Ice Shock – using a code key, readers are challenged to find a hidden word in the content of Invisible City. Submit the word and register, and you may win. The contest, however, is only open to residents of the UK and Ireland.
Information about the ARG at this point is fairly hush-hush, but we know it’s coming. Stay tuned to her website for details if/when they’re released.
Invisible City: An ancient civilization is awakening. An ancient Maya prophecy is unfolding. One boy – Joshua – holds the key. When his archaeologist father goes missing in Mexico, Josh suspects alien abduction. But when he realises his dad was murdered, Josh is caught in a race to find the legendary ‘Ix Codex’ – a lost Mayan prophecy which predicts the end of the world.
Ice Shock: Josh is even more certain now that his father’s death was no accident – and he’s starting to wonder if he can really trust his closest allies. When he learns of a secret buried within the Ix Codex, he must journey back to the secret Mexican city of Ek Naab. Shocking news awaits him about the mysterious Bracelet of Itzamna. Did Josh’s dad really take it? And where is it now? Josh has no idea what’s waiting for him…
The ARG (source: mgharris.net): Readers, I have been SO busy with stuff (…) most of all working on the Alternate Reality Game we’re developing to co-launch with ICE SHOCK. That’s right, I said Alternate Reality Game – ARG! Conceptually, our game is a cross between Lonelygirl15 and The Beast. But! It’s a secret. So don’t tell, okay?
The secret’s out!
For more information about Harris and The Joshua Files, bookmark MGHarris.net, TheJoshuaFiles.com, or the fan community hub TheMGHarris.com. Keep a watch on this site as we get closer to the launch of Ice Shock and its ARG in March of 2009.
A recent New York Times article announced a new and exciting venture by Scholastic, Inc, the largest publisher and distributor of children’s books and related products to home and school.
Starting in September of 2008, Scholastic will publish “39 Clues”, a cross-media experience centered around ten books released over the course of 24 months. Scholastic is pulling some of the top childrens authors published under the brand, including Rick Riordan, Gordan Korman, Peter Lerangis, and Jude Watson.
According to the article in the Times, the plot of “39 Clues” will revolve around Amy and Dan Cahill, two adolescent members of the world’s most powerful clan, as they compete against other branches of their family to collect 39 clues that lead to ultimate power.
Tracy van Straaten, Scholastic’s VP of Publicity for the Children’s Book Publishing division, notes that Scholastic’s Lab for Informal Learning is collaborating on the project with “a company that has ARG experience, as well as game designers” in creating this project. This collaboration may include work with GMD Studios, the company that has worked on such games as Art of the Heist and Who is Benjamin Stove, and are currently presenting their project, Eldritch Errors. The experience will extend beyond the books through a website including character blogs, puzzles and mini-games, as well as maps and treasure hunts. Each book will come with six collectible cards that will provide further clues.
Although the project is still months away, both Kotaku and Ian Bogost at Watercooler Games have expressed skepticism regarding the project due to Scholastic’s decision to retain all rights to the intellectual property. Scholastic responded to the criticism, noting that the decision to retain all rights stems from the project’s development through the Scholastic Lab for Informal Learning.
39 Clues has the potential to introduce a younger generation to the world of alternate reality gaming, and Scholastic has the resources to pull it off, especially if the company leverages the resources available through the Scholastic Book Club, their distribution channel in schools worldwide. The bar for transmedia novels has been set rather high by New York Times bestseller Cathy’s Book.