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As the World Turns Novel a Success


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This piece originally appeared on April 13, 2006, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

For those of you who saw my previous post about Oakdale Confidential, here is a brief update now that the novel is out. During my recent travels, I've had a chance to read it, and I've even weighed in on the book myself on some of the soap opera message boards.

Oakdale Confidential is standard fare as a quick-read murder mystery, but the way it has been woven into the plot of the show makes it a more valuable purchase for ATWT viewers. On television, then novel is treated as a fictional story that nevertheless reveals some secrets about people in town--and people that are not exactly public figures. So the book and the identity of its author has become an Oakdale town scandal.

The mystery on the show is who wrote the book, and everyone is walking around with their copies, while viewers are also able to buy the book and read it, not just to enjoy for the sake of the story in the novel--which could be readable for a non-ATWT fan but likely not nearly as enjoyable--but even more so because the book gives you clues about who wrote the book and gives you the chance to directly own and consume an artifact from the story world.

What makes the book most intriguing is that viewers are looking through the text and examining shows carefully to get clues as to who authored it. There are several factual discrepancies in the book from what we have actually seen on screen that are illuminating for close watchers of ATWT, and my thoughts on the message board look into those parts of the text that stray from the "truth" we've seen on the screen in detail to get a better sense of who might be the author and why they may have either gotten facts wrong or deliberately chosen to omit certain things in their rendering of the story.

From a transmedia storytelling standpoint, the attempt has been a great success. Oakdale Confidential is currently ranked the #7 book on Amazon, up from #10 two days ago but down from #5 yesterday (the numbers are updated hourly). Message boards have come alive with debates about who wrote the book, and we have yet to see if Neilsen numbers reflect a surge in viewership based on part-time fans having an interest in the book or even new readers becoming interested in the show through picking the book up (and, if the Neilsen numbers don't reflect a major difference, is this really an indicator that it isn't happening?)

While the experiment shows how much more coordination is needed between the real author of the book and the television writing team to really exploit all the possibilities of taking the story from one medium to the other, the one thing that Oakdale Confidential has demonstrated quite powerfully is that such an attempt at transmedia storytelling is becoming more and more profitable and that viewers are eager to join into a deep transmedia experience. I am hoping that the experiment not only shows the people at ATWT that this was a good idea but also what to do better the next time around.


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