CAMP 2014: IBook offers entrepreneurial fellow innovative book publishing platform

Story by 2014 Fellow Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | Photo by Ellie Van Houtte

Melissa Ludtke speaks about her transmedia experience at CAMP.

In 1997, Melissa Ludtke traveled to China and adopted a baby who had been abandoned by her birth parents as a result of the country’s one-child policy. For the next 16 years Ludtke raised her daughter Maya in her home state of Massachusetts. When Maya was almost 17 years old, she returned to China to find out what life would have been like had she grown up in the rural countryside.

Ludtke, the first-ever JAWS entreprenurial fellow, sent a team of bilingual videographers along with Maya and her orphanage crib neighbor Jennie to document their journey – and the results are her forthcoming iBook, “Touching Home in China: in search of missing girlhoods.” Ludtke shared the process of creating the interactive iBook on Nov. 2.

Maya returned to Massachusetts with nearly 100 hours of video footage of her trip, but making a documentary would have been costly and not fit as well the story the girls had to tell. Instead she is using the iBook platform, which has an inexpensive customizable template that allows authors to integrate maps, graphics, photo albums and video directly into the pages.

Rather than “multimedia,” Ludtke explained that this new type of storytelling is called “transmedia” because photos, videos, informational graphics and text are integrated onto the same page in a single product.

“It really opened up a way for us to tell the story in a different way,” she said.

The first chapter features a video of Maya and Jennie speaking to Chinese girls the same age as her, pop-up profiles of the girls she befriends, an interactive map of the regions they travel to and photo galleries of the places they visited – all alongside the main text of the story. Offering more than just text lets readers control how they engage with the story, Ludtke said.

But the iBook format isn’t without drawbacks, Ludtke said. She explained that major publishing houses are not yet embarking on this kind of transmedia storytelling, so doing this kind of book is not the same as an author receiving a contract from a publisher. Instead, Ludtke has turned to crowdfunding campaigns, grants and her own personal money to fund production.

“We think that over time this is the way books will be understood and accessed.”

Editor’s note 11/6/14: Story has been updated with Maya’s age during her visit to China, information on Maya’s orphanage crib neighbor Jennie, the correct spelling of iBook, details on transmedia content and transmedia storytelling by publishing houses.