Asia to be a major player in transmedia content

  • Sherlock Sam IP from Singapore ready to go global
  • Haruki Murakami and Liu Cixin among trendsetters
Asia to be a major player in transmedia content
Peter Schoppert, President, Singapore Book Publishers Association
IN recent times, there has been a lot of hype about transmedia. But what exactly does it mean?

Henry Jenkins, author of the seminal book, Convergence Culture, says that this is an emerging subject and different authors have different understandings of it. The term 'transmedia' per se means 'across media' and may be applied to superficially similar, but different things. In particular, the concept of 'transmedia storytelling' should not to be confused with traditional cross-platform, transmedia IP like Star Wars or Harry Potter.
Transmedia storytelling is the technique of telling a single story across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies. From a production standpoint, transmedia storytelling involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronisation with each other.
The inaugural StoryDrive Asia in Singapore this week will focus on transmedia storytelling. Organised by the Singapore Book Publishers Association (SBPA) and Frankfurter Buchmesse, the symposium provides networking opportunities for professionals in and outside of the publishing industry. It features speakers such as angel investors, professionals in software, gaming, photography, filmmaking and digital media from around the world.
On the eve of StoryDrive Asia, DNA interviews Peter Schoppert, President, Singapore Book Publishers Association on transmedia and Asia's potential.
Peter Schoppert has made his career in publishing in Singapore. He was Editorial Director for illustrated book publisher Editions Didier Millet in the 1990s. He left books for digital publishing in 1996, when he helped start Pacific Internet, Singapore’s second ISP. He later co-founded regional consumer online publisher,, where he served as SVP Business Development and Publisher of CNET Asia.
DNA: All the large transmedia companies are based in the US and Europe. Why is Asia lagging behind?
I’m not sure if it really is the case that Asia is lagging behind. It’s just that the transmedia paradigm is a bit different here. The trend for 'hyper IP' in China is really all about stories being developed first online, then going to print and film or TV, with some offshoots to videogames.
The new kind of production houses or creative agencies in China are focused on that trend. In Asia, we just have fewer companies developing brands and characters from scratch to go across media.
I want to point out that Frankfurter Buchmesse, operators of the Frankfurt Book Fair, had spent the last 20 years bringing in players in the digital sphere to the Frankfurt Book Fair. Filmmakers, games professionals, investors, startups and technologists have been going to Frankfurt and looking at transmedia. There’s no Frankfurt Book Fair equivalent here in Asia to bring the different industry professionals together. So, StoryDrive Asia is intended to do just that – bring everyone together to learn, share and network, and capture the transmedia trends.
DNA: What is the current status of ebook and book publishing in Asia?
We’re seeing book publishing following the S-curve growth in Asia. Certainly in China and India and in places like Indonesia, the market grew by 14% annually in the five years to 2014, according to Price Waterhouse. Vietnam and Myanmar are right now much smaller markets, but with huge growth potential and increasing professionalisation.
In Asia, the focus is very much on education (70% of the book publishing market in China is for children’s and educational books). Japan and Taiwan are facing challenges from demographic shifts. In the smartphone and tablet-heavy markets like Singapore and South Korea, the challenge is for a share of the wallet against gaming and other media.
DNA: How difficult is it for new Asian IP to find a transmedia publisher?
It depends on what languages you are talking about.  For writers working in English and looking to find US or UK publishers, it’s a bit of a challenge to do that from a distance. However it tends to be much easier to find a good local English-language publisher, at least in India, Singapore or the Philippines, who can build a strong local readership. Local is often the best place to start. That said, we do have a few cases of self-published authors who have gone on to find local or overseas publishing deals to bring them to the next level.
DNA: Do you see good IP being generated in Asia which has very good transmedia potential?
Certainly, Asia has good IP with transmedia potential. Our Chinese counterparts estimate that 70% of new TV and film productions are coming from properties developed first in online literature or printed books. A Singapore team just signed a six-figure deal for TV and film rights for their Sherlock Sam book series.
DNA: What is the attitude of the VC community to new IP which has transmedia potential?
I wouldn’t want to speak for the VC community. With StoryDrive Asia, we wanted to help investors among others understand the way the new media ecosystem is developing. We hope that publishers and investors will have a platform to better understand each other and capture the transmedia opportunities.
There is a fair amount of M&A in the region, particularly as promising mid-size publishers are picked up by larger international groups, but publishing startups tend to be self-financed. They haven’t required venture capital.
DNA: How is it that Asia has not produced a Star Wars or a Harry Potter with real transmedia impact?
Personally, I think we’ve done better! You’re forgetting about Haruki Murakami who writes great stuff and has millions of fans around the world. His works have been translated into 50 different languages. In science fiction, one of the hottest talents is Liu Cixin, whose Three-Body Problem won the Hugo award in 2015.
In times to come, I believe we’ll see a breakout in English-written material from Asia. It could come from anywhere, but I would put my money on India, which has the fastest growing English-language book market in the world and a vibrant publishing scene. 
DNA: Which media sectors in Asia are the most conducive for new IP?
I would say that user-generated online literature and video are the hot areas now, certainly in China. WeChat has over 500 million active users on their platform, and a great micropayments system and that’s powering a new generation of transmedia creators. We’re seeing similar moves in the Philippines where Wattpad is building a media empire on the basis of their user-generated writing.

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