Books as a form of entertainment are facing stiff competition from an increasing array of options. Patrick Carman, author and head of PC Studio, views this as particularly true with the younger generation, where mobile devices provide constant access to alternative content. As he explains, “if you’re twelve . . . and you don’t have an iPod Touch [or mobile device], somebody standing two people to your left does.” Responding to this shift in the consumption experience, Carman has two apps in development that aim to create a reading experience with the mobile environment in mind.
Books have been migrating to mobile devices for some time now, but traditionally, the pulp edition is imagined (and released) first. Carman’s thinking, however, is that “books have so much to compete with, that trying to stand out as a book, it’s almost better to blend in. [Young readers] are already doing all of these things anyway, so let’s see if we can get a way to have them also reading as part of everything they’re doing, as opposed to just putting it all away and pulling out a book.” What follows is a preview of two projects Carman is using to explore this blended approach to reading: 3:15 Stories and Dark Eden.
In January 2011, the 3:15 Stories website launched, providing a glimpse of Carman’s newest project, a series of short stories that Carman describes as “fun, spooky campfire-type stories that are appropriate for a ten- to fifteen-year-old.” While a print version is scheduled for publication through Scholastic in 2012, 3:15 Stories will first be introduced as serialized content, with nine episodes released on a weekly schedule in the fall and an additional nine episodes set to release later in the year. Fittingly, the first installment will be released on March 15th for Apple devices and the Android platform.
3:15 Stories is as much a mission statement as it is a title for the series of short stories: as Paul Chandler, the book’s narrator, explains:
3:15 means several things: it’s a time when things go bump in the night . . . a place where spooky stories find a home . . . a feeling . . . that chill, running down your spine. ‘3’ stands for listen, read, and watch. Because that’s what you do with a 3:15 story. ’15’ is for how long it’s going to take you. Fifteen minutes or less.
Like the Sarah Fincher site used for Carman’s Skeleton Creek series, the 3:15 Stories website hides passwords and clues that lead to images and videos offering a tantalizing taste of the stories to come, including a chilling ski safety instruction video.
The format starts with an audio introduction to the story by Paul Chandler which unlocks the story. By reading the short story, a final video is unlocked that concludes the reading experience. Carman notes that “[w]e know that kids enjoy something kind of spooky. They love sharing these videos, and don’t always have a lot of time, so this is going to give young readers a chance to feel like they’ve finished a story, they’ve done it in fifteen minutes, and they’ve gotten some good solid reading.”
Readers do have the opportunity to dig deeper, as passwords hidden in the videos will unlock a deep, underlying backstory that ties the short stories together. Skeleton Creek fans will also be pleased to hear that one of the short stories in the print edition will return to that story universe.
Carman’s other foray into mobile storytelling is Dark Eden, a paranormal thriller targeting the 12 and up demographic, published through HarperCollins. The story centers around seven teenagers attempting to overcome their fears. Sharing the same counselor, the teens are sent into the woods to meet with a man who will help them overcome their fears. Both the book and the app will debut at Comic-Con this July. An alternate reality game that Carman describes as PC Studio’s most ambitious yet will launch on May 10th, offering a terrifying taste of what’s to come.
Unlike 3:15 Stories, Dark Eden was conceived as Carman’s return to the traditional novel. “I really wanted to get back to writing traditional novels: I didn’t want to get to the point where all I ever wrote had multimedia pieces throughout, and so I began by writing a straight up, pretty lengthy novel. And then, from there, we decided, ‘could we make it into something else?'” This lead to two divergent experiences for readers. By purchasing the book, young readers would receive a traditional novel that follows the experiences of the seven teens. Opting to experience the story via the app provides a different experience, with serialized episodes providing a more exploratory reading experience at the expense of some of the detail. Readers going through the app experience start out looking at a map, out in the woods. By clicking on numbered items in the buildings, readers can search for journals, videos, slide decks, or audio diaries that help piece together the story. Like 3:15 Stories, these episodic chapters are intended to play out in short bursts.
While these reading experiences represent a departure from previous projects by Patrick Carman and PC Studio, they stay true to the company’s goal of attracting young readers by finding them where they already spend their time. Make sure to check out your free preview of the first installment in the 3:15 Stories series on March 15th, and keep your eyes peeled for the launch of the Dark Eden alternate reality game in May . . . if you dare.