Volodymyr Usov about digital storytelling of XXI century and the Gutenbergz idea design agency

Users can give a lot for a good story — and first of all likes and shares. And then — become active brand advocates. But now a good story is not enough to capture the reader's attention. The wonderful writing style and the story by itself should have an interactive shell, corresponding to the time. Gutenbergz project moves to creation of such a great story for the people of XXI century. We talked with Gutenbergz CEO Volodymyr Usov about digital storytelling of XXI century, the AppStore top and Kickstarter success.

About the name. Data carriers have evolved from the boards to the scrolls and from the scrolls to codexes. In 1971, the founder of the "Gutenberg" put the most important task to collect all the books in the world in the digital form. Do you see your project as the next level of data carriers evolution? How do you see the world where Gutenbergz ideas are fully implemented?

— The name was chosen as a joke to show that it is time to update the old Gutenbergs’ ideas and make the book adequate to the time and modern life rythm requests. We believe that stories have a major impact on our civilization, shaping our vision and values. So we want to make them as exciting and interesting as it possible using all available technologies. In the end, I have a child, and I want to be surrounded by only good stories that will make the life more interesting and deeper.

How many people are involved in Gutenbergz projects? And how many programmers/designers are there on the team?

– There are seven people in the team now. Any team member can suggest an idea. If it will cause heated debate and there will be those who are "against" and those who are "for", that means that it is a good idea. In my opinion, the idea must be original, possible to implement (albeit difficult, but still ...), relevant (to be in the context of world events), and a little provocative.

Profile: 2011, July — digital publishing Gutenbergz was opened in Odessa, specializing in the development and publishing the interactive books for mobile devices. 2012, December — "Sherlock Holmes" release appeared in AppStore, that was the first Gutenbergz digital book. 2013, September — Gutenbergz became a finalist of the Global Technology Foundation (GTF) grant fund and received a grant in the amount of 240 thousand UAH. 2013, October — The project won the Forbes “Strartups Battle”. 2013, October — Publishing office came on the Kickstarter with the Gadgetarium project, which combines a printed version, a companion of augmented reality and an interactive book app for mobile devices. The project got $15,000. 2014, February — Publishing office developed the Amazeals platform for publications and authors who want their stories to be born through interactive elements and multimedia content. 2014, April — in conjunction with UNESCO the Publishing office developed an interactive version of the book "Blood and Hope" by Samuel Pesaro.

How many languages are Gutenbergz books published on?

— Now there are three languages: English, Russian, Ukrainian. At the moment we are finishing the Sherlock version for Android, which will be available in seven languages: English, Russian, Ukrainian, German, Portuguese, French, Japanese. We are planning to expand. We finally made Ukrainian version of the website. By the way there are only two of them: English and Ukrainian.

Augmented Reality Technologies. Now they are becoming more widely used in the everyday life. Tell me about the advantages of augmented reality technology for Gutenbergz.

– For us the augmented reality technology, as well as other technologies, is primarily a tool for creating fascinating stories. With the help of technology, we are trying to increase the person involvement in the process of interaction with the content. And in the case of our "Gadgetarium" it is an attempt to combine in one project a classic book and interactive application to create a unique experience of transition from one format to another within the same stories. We believe that books and applications are not competitors to each other, but rather complement each other. And that is what we want to show in the new project with the help of augmented reality. It will look something like this:

Children find it much more interesting than reading the usual book and much more useful than playing AngryBirds. It is like a magic. I felt such feelings when my parents gave me a new book 25 years ago. But today it is hard to surprise a child with an ordinary book. So we try to do something special.

Does Gutenbergz use any unique technologies?

– We do not have unique technologies. In order to make the cool product it is quite enough to have things that each developer has. The problem is that the number of cool projects is less than the developers and publishers number. So the thing is how do you use these technologies.

In your opinion, are new stories worse than time-tested subjects? Or it depends on supply?

– In my opinion, it is better to create new stories for new platforms with all their features. Then the level of the project will be much higher. But it is much more complicated and requires more resources. We are moving to this. There are the old rules of dramatic arches with the introduction, a turning point, rising action, culmination and denouement. And there are some new rules for the digital world with a deep dive into the history, interactivity, coupled with the real world and personal participation. Someone who will be able to seamlessly connect all that in one project will be the world leader in digital storytelling. But it is easier said than done).

Why "Sherlock Holmes", the story about Chernobyl and Samuel Pesaro? How about business books and specialized literature?

– We are trying to experiment with genres and directions. If I can say so, today we aren’t "Toyota" with the finished platforms line, but "Formula 1" Design Bureau. We are developing solutions that can be used in a wide production in a couple of years. Digital storytelling market is only beginning to grow rapidly now, so we are trying to check different solutions to find the perfect balance of narrative and interactivity that will make the stories resonate with XXI century. Now we are very interested in solutions for education. We are just working on the interactive multimedia textbooks for secondary schools platform concept. By today lots of eyes in the world are looking at Ukraine, so we have to be leaders in all spheres. Especially in education.

If it is possible, we would like you to tell about that more detailed. With whom do you cooperate in the creation of multimedia textbooks?

– With noone. We understand that such a project can only be implemented at the state level. And now it is obviously not up to it. With all due respect to our ideas, questions of national security are much more important. Therefore, we are working on a concept platform independently.

Does Gutenbergz work with some authors (writers), which create unique stories with an eye for further processing?

– The team has an author who is responsible for writing original stories. But we are open for new stories and interesting people. For example printed version of the "Gadzhetarium" book we produce in collaboration with "A-ba-ba-ga-la-ma-ha" and Ivan Malkovich.

Belatedly, I want to congratulate you with your success on Kickstarter! As far as I know, the number of Ukrainian startups who reached the desired, can be counted on the fingers.

– I want to say that our campaign was not very successful financially, but from a marketing standpoint it was pretty nice. We collected only a couple of dollars more than stated amount — 10 050 dollars. And then, main backers were our friends and people who have already used our applications and have written positive reviews in the AppStore. In fact, we have mobilized the already existing loyal audience. That was enough to get plenty of mentions in the media. I can advise developers of cool gadgets and different stuff to go on Kickstarter. Kickstarter at the moment is a platform for pre-order the gadgets for very low prices. If it is for you, then go ahead, shoot a cool video and you will succeed. And for the rest, it is not the most suitable platform. To register, you need to have companies in the U.S., the UK, or some couple of civilized countries, or work through intermediaries, that is not very convenient.

Gutenbergz products are unique in some kind. What channels of online advertising give you the greatest effect? Please, name countries, where people are interested in your products now.

– Our products are popular in North America and South-East Asia (China, Taiwan, Singapore). Our first project — "Sherlock Holmes" for iPad — has become the most popular interactive book in China and for 4 months was in the top 10 in the U.S. and 30 other countries. Apple recognized our Sherlock as the most "frightful" book in the AppStore. There are information that some children were crying, seeing our illustrations). We mainly use media and blogs for promotion, as well as Facebook. If you have a good product, it will be written about.

In one of your interviews you said that an exclusive release on gave you more return than a dozen releases on other sites. How do you measure the effectiveness of cooperation with one or another website (blogger)?

— Yes, I believe that exclusive post in the good edition with a real active audience is better than press release on 10 websites. Interestingly, that these 10 sites will repost it anyway. And the best criterion is the number of downloads.

Tell us about your campaign in the AppStore. What did you do to stay in the top for a long time?

– Almost nothing. We have tried to do everything "before". There wasn’t any negative feedback. Therefore, we have updated the application for the year only once. AppStore just works on a chain: it all starts in the U.S., and then you turn up in all sorts of compilations of regional sections, which attracts the attention of regional media.

Tell us about your collaboration with WannaBiz.

– We have received investment and mentoring assistance exactly when it was really needed. Also thanks to WannaBiz we decided to participate in the first grant competition of GTF and even managed to win. Thanks to this grant the project AMAZEALS was implemented — the platform for interactive multimedia stories. I mean the story that demonstrates the platform capabilities. We continue to work on the platform.

Does Gutenbergz make an offline advertising? Or online promotion is in priority?

– Telling the truth, we don’t have enough time for quality promotional campaigns. I used to participate at various conferences before. Now I’m not. All our time is devoted to work on the product. Products are different, so the promotion campaigns also differ. Main channels are the thematic publications and social networks.

What about the global trends: is digital storytelling developed actively? Is there someone to be like?

– It is developed actively. Interestingly that the big players, like Random House, Disney, Penguin on the level of innovation lose to such new young teams as Moonbot Studios and Touchpress. Their projects are much more interesting, and this is confirmed by the downloads statistics. Perhaps this is a consequence of greater inner freedom, a broader set of tools and new ideas. The future belongs to the new players.

What are the difficulties for you in Ukraine?

– In Ukraine, our main problem is the lack of paid digital content consumer culture. But I'm sure it's only temporary, and we may soon realize that for the best projects production developers spend their money. If they will not return them, there will be no projects.

Under the conditions of doing business in different countries, did you signed the phenomenon of communication gap: when what is great perceived by users of one country, is categorically rejected (by virtue of belief, of opinion), by users of another state? If so, tell us about such cases.

– For us it was strange to see that our "Sherlock" was the number one book in China, and the UK did not get to the top 10.

Have Gutenbergz team ever patent their ideas?

– While you patent your idea, it will be useless. We don’t spend time and resources on it. They are limited.

Thank you for the interesting conversation! We wish Gutenbergz success and conquering new heights!

Translated by Dmitriy Pelymskiy.

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