arcaniaI’ve reported on the confluence of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books and e-books before, but Read Write Web has a story about a new startup, Coliloquy, that is going to produce new branching-story e-books for the Kindle format.

But this startup is about more than just letting people pick the story they want to by flipping to page whatever. The article suggests that the e-books will return feedback on what choices readers make so that the publishers and authors can create a better-tailored product.

Coliloquy enables episodic content unlike anything previously available on the Kindle. It’s more democratic. Authors can adjust their future offerings based on what they learn about their audience from the choices they make. It’s in-story analytics. And the readers get the satisfaction of influencing the outcome not just of one story but of a whole series.

I’m not sure how effective that’s really going to be, though. I know that when I read CYOA-style books, I would go back and read through every story branch to see what happened if I had made different decisions. (And why not? Any single “story” chosen from such a book would only be the length of a short story, because they had to devote space to all the other possible stories. If I read more of them, I’d at least be seeing more of the book.)

This seems to be comparing them more to those gimmick TV show episodes they tried back in the 1980s where you would call a 900 number to vote for how the episode ended, or the infamous comic book gimmick where fans voted to kill Robin. I don’t know how successful that’s going to be. I know that my parents were offended by the idea when murder mystery show Matlock tried it because it defeated the whole point of trying to work out on your own "whodunnit” if it could have been anyone depending on how the audience voted.

And there are other ways to get reader feedback than just looking at choice metrics. On-line writing circles, including professional projects such as Elizabeth Bear’s Shadow Unit or Neal Stephenson’s Mongoliad, let writers and readers interact directly, with more meaningful contact than “X% chose Choice A, Y% chose Choice B.”

Still, experiments are how we make new things. It should be interesting to see how this one works out.


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