CONTEC Mexico 2020: Focus on Storytelling, AI, and Transmedia

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

This year’s CONTEC Mexico conference spends two days examining the potentials of transmedia and artificial intelligence for book publishing.

CONTEC Mexico conference in 2019

At the 2019 staging of CONTEC Mexico. Image: Frankfurter Buchmesse

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Transmedia at Center Stage
On Tuesday and Wednesday (February 18 and 19), the fourth edition of the annual CONTEC México conference will be seated in Mexico City, continuing as a flagship program of Frankfurter Buchmesse’s outreach in Latin America.

CONTEC Mexico 2020CONTEC, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, is Frankfurt’s long-running series of events in which book industry players and content leaders in other creative industries exchange viewpoints and talking points, both to stimulate cross-media thinking and to open up the potential for business coordination.

This year, the CONTEC Mexico program is once more under the direction of Marife Boix-Garcia, Frankfurt’s vice-president for southern Europe and Latin America, and it takes a renewed look at “transmedia” storytelling—a concept that, in many ways now stands as an accomplished reality in many parts of the industry but may be more beneficial if revisited as a conscious criterion of production and distributional potential.

The words-to-screen drivers in film and television, the focus on audio as an energetic, if still small, growth sector for publishing, and the proximity of much good literature to performance, all can be brought into the discussion.

A full agenda and ticketing information can be found here.

Belén Santa-Olalla: A Game of ‘Game of Thrones’

Belén Santa-Olalla. Image: Conducttr

On Tuesday at 11 a.m., the conference will hear a keynote address from Belén Santa-Olalla, a transmedia storyteller, speaker, and director of “immersive theater” productions.

Dividing her time between London, Madrid, and Málaga, Santa-Olalla may be best known as a creative consultant to the development of Conducttr’s 19 Reinos an immersive online role-playing game developed in support of a season of Game of Thrones (Juego de Tronos), which was broadcast by Canal+ in Spain for 10 weeks. She’ll be on-hand to speak in Mexico City thanks to support from Acción Cultural Española.

Heavy on engagement in various social media and focused on real-time engagement—players being notified that their characters had been killed and respawned—the producer, Conducttr, has pointed out that it provided Canal+ with charts of player behavior so that the game could be tweaked and updated according to how the players were performing.

“Canal+ wanted to create this to engage fans in Spain for the fourth season of Game of Thrones in 2016,” Santa-Olalla tells Publishing Perspectives.

Today, she says, the community that gathered around the game still exists in a Facebook group, and the content has been preserved. “But it was developed to live for a short period of time, as an active property and is bounded by the limits of the canon of the story universe—the powers, the magic.”

In serving as a creative lead, working closely with the Canal+ team, her role lay not only in transmedia storytelling elements, themselves, but in understanding, she says, what the goals of Canal+ were with such a property—understanding the intellectual property as it existed in the show itself ‘and what the resources were” from the network.

“Even small publishers and new authors can work and explore their story worlds from a transmedia perspective.”Belén Santa-Olalla, Conducttr

Her role then became that of a kind of outside, associated show-runner for the game, “putting together an experience that would engage the fans from the storytelling and gaming perspective.”

What Santa-Olalla says may at times limit book publishing in efforts to develop similar transmedial interpretations of content is that publishers often “won’t have the same kind of resources” that the visually-led screened media have. “And they don’t believe in the power of this as much as the television and film industry.”

In earlier work with the romance imprint Mills & Boon, Santa-Olalla says, she became convinced that, “There’s a lot of room for exploration” of the world publishing’s potential in transmedial development.

“The book publishing industry has a lot of content there. It’s capable of creating very rich transmedia story worlds and engaging with more active target audiences, more interactive.

“Right now, this exploration is happening mainly in unique situations, but I think that even small publishers and new authors can work and explore their story worlds from a transmedia perspective.”

An opening page view from ’19 Reinos.’ Image: Conducttr

Colin Lovrinovic: ‘AI Is Quite en Vogue

At CONTEC Mexico, artificial intelligence will be brought into the conversation on Wednesday with a keynote from Colin Lovrinovic of Gould Finch GmbH, which spearheaded a Frankfurt-based international survey on AI and views of it from publishers.

Made possible by support from the Goethe-Institut Mexico, Lovrinovic’s comments will  help outline what the study—created for October’s Buchmesse—revealed about publishers’ use or non-use of AI and what they understand its potential to be in the international book business.

“When writing our white paper and conducting the survey,” Lovrinovic tells Publishing Perspectives, “we learned that the thoughts publishers have about AI were about as diverse as their catalogs.

“The majority of publishers say they haven’t had any experience with AI yet, but those who have taken the first steps say they’re happy with the results and plan to increase their efforts.

“There’s no doubt that AI will become an essential key to success for the publishing industry,” Lovrinovic says, “but creative minds won’t be replaced by machines anytime in the near future. Instead, it’s much more a question of supporting publishers through smart optimization to enable them to strengthen their core business.

“A major obstacle at the moment isn’t so much on the technology side, but rather a question of mindset. You need to be open to innovation and change, and you need a willingness to experiment.”

“A major obstacle at the moment isn’t so much on the technology side, but rather a question of mindset. “Colin Lovrinovic, Gould Finch

And when it comes down to it, Lovrinovic says, a part of the problem is that information on AI can be misleading and confused.

“AI is quite en vogue at the moment,” he says, “and wherever there’s hype, there are lots of misconceptions.

“So I’ve witnessed everything from irrational fear to blind euphoria, but I’ve also seen a lot of progress in the adaptation of very smart AI tools by publishers over the past year. More and more experiments are turning into viable solutions.

“At Gould Finch, for example, we’ve teamed up with a few publishers in areas such as trend- and author-analysis, to optimize financial investments as well as marketing and sales activities. There are also promising projects out there in automated marketing, dynamic pricing, and predictive printing.”

Colin Lovrinovic. Image: Gould Finch

CONTEC Agenda Points

The program for CONTEC México this year follows Santa-Olalla’s talk on “The Use of Immersive Storytelling for Attracting an Audience” with a conversation on cultural industries and transmedia, bringing in Stroke114’s Rodrigo de la Calva (Spain), Film2b’s Ana Luiza Beraba (Brazil), and Revista de la Universidad’s Yael Weiss (Mexico).

  • In discussing “A New Grammar: The Contribution of Audience and Actors In Creating New Stories,” de la Calva will be joined by Visual Poet’s Rocio Cerón and Gina Jaramillo, both of Mexico.
  • Roger Casas Alatriste of Spain’s El Cañonazo Transmedia will offer a second keynote on Tuesday on the “Transmedia Narrative as Innovation in Marketing and Business.”
  • Tuesday then closes with a workshop and seminar on audiovisual rights, led by Quetzalli de la Concha of Mexico’s CEMPRO.
  • On Wednesday, Andrew Baev of Bookmate (UK) will speak on “The Human Factor of Machine Learning,” a keynote designed to pivot the conference toward the AI issue, with special attention to generating relevant and quality recommendations for readers.
  • The “Application and Use of AI in the Humanities” is the topic, then, for a panel comprising Mónica Nepote of Programa-eLiteratura, Centro de Cultural Digital (Mexico), Juan Zafra of Telos (Spain), Arcángel Constantini of Artista Transdiciplinar (Mexico), and Nidia Maria Chávez Montiel of Fundación Telefónica (Mexico).
  • After Lovrinovic speaks, there’s a round table with Marianela Camacho-Alfaro of Editorial Costa Rica, Rodrigo López Ramírez of El Sótano (Mexico), Tomás Granados of Grano de Sal (Mexico), Carlos Rojas Urrutia of MVB Latin America (Mexico and Germany), and Alejandro Ramírez of CANIEM, the Mexican book chamber.
  • A presentation on Matchmaking authors, formats, and channels will follow, from Beraba and Diana Narváez of WePlot (Brazil and Colombia, respectively). Alejandro J. Rojas and René Rosado of Parrot Analytics in the States and Mexico will speak on “The Journey of Publishing Content Toward the Audiovisual World” will follow.
  • And meetings between publishers, agents, and producers will be held at the end of the day, led by Roger Casas-Alatriste of El Cañonazo Transmedia (Spain) in association with Canacine.

The program is at Centro Cultural de España.

More from Publishing Perspectives on México is here, more on digital publishing is here, and more on the CONTEC programming from the Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.