Booksurfers: a new adventure in digital publishing

Booksurfers is a new action adventure series by David Gatward for the 9-12 market, and in many ways it is very much in the grand tradition of classic adventure tales: a group of kids thrown together in an unfamiliar environment with a problem to solve, an insane criminal mastermind with an evil genius sidekick, a range of exciting locations . . . but it also has a contemporary twist.

The four Booksurfers, Ryan, Jake, Becca and Harriet, use a bespoke digital gadget called The Nautilus to jump into classic adventure stories to steal famous fictional artefacts at the behest of the nefarious Dr Crookshanks. As they explore some of the best known fictional worlds, the reader is able to explore alongside them via a series of hyperlinks which connect the Booksurfers’ adventure to the corresponding points in the original classic.

Booksurfers sprang from the twin aims of engaging new generations of readers with the classics and utilising the opportunities and potential provided by electronic books to enhance the traditional reading experience. Using digital technology, which kids are already so familiar with, to encourage reading of classic books which might otherwise be passed over, seemed like a really good match. We started the process by commissioning David Gatward, and he has very much made the Booksurfers his own: the adventures are great stories in their own right, regardless of whether or not the reader chooses to explore the hyperlinks.

We had all always had Treasure Island in mind as the first book to explore, because it is so iconic – regardless of whether you’ve actually read it most people have a good idea of what it’s about. Where to go next was a bit more tricky: some books don’t lend themselves to being explored as well as you might expect (think for a moment about the practicalities of hiding four kids on a submarine, and you’ll appreciate why we decided against 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Having decided on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (what’s not to love about a book with flying monkeys in it?), Dave got stuck into the tricky bit of plotting the initial Booksurfers’ adventures so that they meshed perfectly with the original stories. No mean feat, and there were a fair few metaphysical headaches along the way!

FourteenFiftyFour is publishing the first two English language titles, Treasure Island and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, today in e-book format exclusively through the Kindle store worldwide.

Why the digital exclusive launch? We are not by any means anti traditional print publishing – we love the book in all its many forms – but Booksurfers was always intended to be launched digitally because of the natural synergy between the reader experience and the Booksurfers’ own use of their Nautilus device. Harnessing the functionality of Kindle enables us to create the interactivity which we hope will draw young readers into classic books in a way which is fun, intuitive and user-friendly, and gives us the opportunity to reach a worldwide market. The books can be read on various platforms through free Kindle reading apps, making them accessible to children through their own, as well as parent owned, devices.

We are looking at print editions in the future, and we will be looking for a print publishing partner who can rise to the challenge of reproducing the functionality of the digital versions in paper form! We are also looking for foreign rights partners to take the Booksurfers into other languages, through The Buckman Agency.

The launch of the series is supported by a dedicated Booksurfers website (www.booksurfers.co.uk) and Facebook page, and will be promoted online – we’d like to start a conversation about which books readers would choose to jump into if they had their own Nautilus!

Later this year, the Booksurfers are heading for The Tale of Robin Hood and A Christmas Carol, and we are reading through a very long list of classics as potential future titles.

Our adventures in digital publishing are in their infancy, but we aren’t reinventing the wheel. First and foremost, Booksurfers is all about great storytelling – digital just gives us an extended range of interesting tools to bring those stories to life.

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Comments

Digital only?

John Pettigrew's picture

As the parent of a 9-year-old boy, I immediately thought "Great! He'll love those. Sort of Thursday Next for kids." Then I saw "Kindle only" and my heart sank. Why, if you're going digital only, did you pick Kindle and only Kindle (as opposed to more open formats)? It's a personal thing, perhaps, but I steer clear of Kindle. I've been reading ebooks for a decade or more, since my old Palm and its 160x160 mono screen. And the prospect of being tied into Amazon doesn't appeal, either as a reader or as a publisher.

Do produce print versions as quickly as you can. Children's reading is still hugely book-based and their tastes are very strongly driven by what their peers like, so numbers count.

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