Have you heard of new publishing innovation The Chatsfield? If you’re thinking That sounds like a cross between a Chesterfield, the swanky couch, and Chatsworth, the stately home, you’re not far off the mark. In a nutshell, The Chatsfieldis a fictional online luxury hotel, a ‘world of style, spectacle and scandal’.
It’s the brainchild of publisher Mills & Boon (owned by Harlequin). The Author magazine writes of the publisher: ‘Few… have given so much pleasure to so many readers… This is partly because they are willing to move with the times and readers’ changing requirements.” The Chatsfield, though, does more than move with the times – it’s breaking new ground.
The Chatsfield online story world brings together hundreds of bits of digital content – Facebook, YouTube, blogs, short stories, emails and Twitter – stemming from the more traditional format of the novel. This isn’t linear storytelling; it’s up to the readers to piece together the story based on the various snippets – the ultimate ‘show, don’t tell’, forcing the readers to reach their own conclusions. Readers can interact live with characters – they can even leave voicemails for them and email them, and receive responses. The publisher says that the most popular characters will be developed further.
So who are the characters? The Telegraph describes a few:
The main character is an executive assistant called Jessie Loe, who after an embarrassing break up accepts a challenge from her best friend to stay single for three months.
Other residents of the hotel include a gorgeous barman with a dark past, a chambermaid with a side line that brings her huge amounts of cash, and a permanent resident in the penthouse who throws the wildest parties to avoid thinking about a sad event from the past.
The publisher says:
The intriguing nature of a hotel is that anyone can come and stay. From politicians to footballers, to newlyweds or stag parties… there are always scandalous stories to tell, and who better to tell them than the people who see all the spectacle; the staff.
Mills & Boon say they have ‘taken traditional storytelling and turned it on its head, to get the attention of their audience in the digital spaces where they are already hanging out and being entertained’. They’ve dubbed the venture ‘social storytelling’, and they say that ‘no publisher has done anything like this before with transmedia storytelling – it’s a global first’ (source: the Guardian).
What stands out about the initiative, I think, is the sheer breadth of media employed, but also its ability to really engage the reader. Readers can have a say in the development of the story world – they can set up a profile and even write their own stories and share them on the website. And then you have the myriad marketing opportunities this publishing platform creates: it’s reported that brands like cosmetics company Glossybox, hotel chain Taj Hotel and dating site Cupid.com are already on board, adding a ‘real-world element for the consumer’.
The publisher’s managing director, Tim Cooper, says, ‘We don’t really know how this project will end or where it will take us – but isn’t that the whole point of a great story?’Personally, I think this is a very exciting move, and it has the scope to go a long way and to herald a whole wave of development in digital publishing. It’s already got me thinking about how I could unify my own story worlds and create a hub where readers can engage digitally and enjoy more content than the novels themselves. Inspirational!
If you’re intrigued by the TheChatsfield, take a look at the trailer, a character-led video.
The hotel is currently closed for business, but will reopen soon. Visit www.thechatsfield.com to register your interest.