4 cultural products in various stages of digital re-imagination

In today’s subscriber update, I look at four cultural content products – each one demonstrating a different aspect of digital innovation. First up is a breathtaking new video game, then a classical ballet show re-imagined for the digital age, then an old-school magazine that recently re-launched online, and finally a book social network that desperately needs to be re-imagined and re-launched.

What You Need To Know 👀

  1. Experimental, non-violent video game Sky: Children of the Light is a hit 🎮

In its roundup of the GameDaily Connect 2019 conference, app analytics company Sensor Tower highlighted a fireside chat with game designer Jenova Chen of thatgamecompany:

“Chen’s studio recently released its inaugural mobile-first game, Sky: Children of the Light, which arrived in July and surpassed one million installs in less than a week.

Chen took a decidedly different approach to the design and even monetization of Sky, which, while adopting a free-to-play model, eschewed many now-standard mechanisms in order to focus on a new type of social experience that plays heavily to the always-on, interconnected nature of mobile devices.”

My take: A recent Gamasutra profile called Sky “a game about flying, exploring, and communicating a mysterious, aerial world.” Most noticeably, and unlike many popular video games, there’s no fighting or shooting. This is fascinating to people like me, for whom violence in gaming is a real turnoff. The stated goal of thatgamecompany is “to bring loved ones together in a safe, beautiful, and thought-provoking environment.” So far it’s had 2 million downloads (including mine today), so that strategy seems to be working. One to watch in the gaming sector.

  1. Joshua Beamish’s @giselle reimagines classic ballet in the digital age 🎭

From the totally new and original to a classic art work re-imagined. Pointe Magazine reports (via ArtsJournal) on a new ballet from Joshua Beamish called @giselle, a re-make of the 19th century classic romantic ballet Giselle:

“Imagine this scenario: Hilarion likes Giselle, but she swipes right on Albrecht, and is smitten. Little does she know, Albrecht is already involved with Bathilde. When Giselle finds out, she livestreams her downward spiral (perhaps her hair even comes down in the midst of her heartbreak?), and enters a realm of women who’ve similarly been ghosted, or otherwise spurned by online relationships.”

My take: Even though I’m not a “ballet geek,” as Beamish termed it in the Pointe interview, I’d love to see how he merges a classical ballet story with the modern era. I always like it when classical culture is reinterpreted for a new era, such as all those modern movie versions of Shakespeare. You can follow Beamish on Instagram to view his journey with @giselle.

  1. The Face magazine is back in print, after its 2019 relaunch on the Web 📃

WWD reports on music, fashion and culture magazine The Face’s 2019 re-emergence from obscurity, after its original print run from 1980 to 2004. It was relaunched online in April of this year at theface.com, and has now announced a return to print – albeit just four times a year. But there are even more iterations planned:

“The Face of 2019 is not aiming to be dependent on just selling pages in a magazine, which was the case when it closed print in May 2004, the advent of the modern Internet but with none of today’s constant accessibility. There’s now a studio/brand consultant element which has already worked with Adidas, The North Face and Gucci on campaigns. There are current discussions of how to branch out into TV production with a slate of ideas developed. There’s e-commerce, with a handful of brand products in an online store. And on the content front there’s push into video and also audio, offering even more opportunities for ads and branded work.”

My take: Of all the cultural industries, magazines – with their reliance on brand affinity and visual identity – are one of the best placed to monetize on the internet. Particularly with branded content and affiliate revenue, which The Face seems laser focused on tapping into. YouTube and video on apps like Instagram are also areas that magazines can flourish in, as I’ve explored in previous editions of Cybercultural.

  1. Almost everything about Goodreads is broken 📚

Not everything is getting relaunched or reimagined. Goodreads, a social network for bookworms that was a staple of the Web 2.0 era and eventually acquired in 2013 by Amazon, is languishing in mediocrity. Angela Lashbrook writes on Medium:

And while Goodreads calls itself “the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations,” many of the 18 or so people I spoke to for this story insisted that, in fact, Goodreads is nearly useless for finding recommendations. “For some reason, Goodreads seems to attract an audience of people with insanely bland and entry-level taste,” Martin says. He points to the site’s Best Books Ever list, which includes Harry Potter, high school curriculum novels, and copious YA. “That would be fine if it didn’t seem to poison the site’s recommendation algorithm, which in my experience is entirely useless.”

My take: That an Amazon-owned site in 2019 offers terrible recommendations is pretty shocking, considering that Amazon pioneered personalization and recommendations in Web 2.0. Even when I was an author trying to promote my books (2013-16), I found Goodreads unsatisfying and ultimately not helpful in sales. Some have suggested that Bookbub, an email-based network, has usurped Goodreads. But its recommendations are largely pay-to-play, as far as I recall. So will book fans ever get a modern, thriving book network and social recommendation service again? We might have to wait for an enterprising entrepreneur to create the next Goodreads.

Data Points 📊

  • CivicScience: Survey of 1,300+ Americans aged 13+ finds that more than half prefer episodes of a TV show to be released all at once, while one-third prefer weekly release. 📺

  • Flamingo Group via Washington Post: Young adults use their phones 6 hours a day but barely touch their news apps. 📱

  • Sensor Tower: Pokémon Masters Revenue Surpasses $25 Million in Its First Week. 🎮

  • RIAA Mid-Year 2019 Report, via Hypebot: 7 in 10 unsigned artists still want a label deal “to help them make it in an increasingly complicated and high-tech business.” 🎹

  • Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) via Marketing Charts: Only 27% of the 1,100 US consumers surveyed say they trust advertising as an institution. 💰

‘Gram of the day 📱

From Joshua Beamish’s Instagram comes this sneak peak at his digital-influenced ballet, @giselle:

That’s the Monday update, hope you found it useful! Keep an eye out for my next in-depth analysis post later in the week, which will be made public to help get the word out to non-subscribers. My blogging + email + Tumblr post last week was well received and led to a bunch more signups.

As always, your financial support of Cybercultural is much appreciated. 🙏