|Target Users||Publishers, authors, booksellers, readers|
|Nature of the initiative||Private|
Passage is an app for smartphones that surprises the user with an excerpt from a novel or another story, when passing a very specific location that has some kind of connection to the original text. A character may experience an adventure in that train station, or the author has been writing in that bar for months, or the language teacher in that school has motivated her to start writing: there is always a story behind the story.
Passage provides hyperlocal literary serendipity. In English (as well as in Dutch and French), the word Passage has several meanings: ‘the act or process of moving through, under, over, or past something on the way from one place to another’, but also ‘a short extract from a book or other printed material’.
Serendipity is of course ‘the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way’: we’ve all experienced the joy of finding something without looking for it.
Passage is a new marketing channel (admittedly only targeted at people already interested in books) for publishers, letting readers discover new authors and making the most of the long tail.
Passage is a novel way for a publisher to promote lesser-known authors, or to make the most of established writers’ portfolio. Of course the app is little more than a gimmick without great books, funny background stories, and surprising anecdotes.
Passage not only gives the reader (part of) the story, it also offers the story behind the story, as told by the author, in a short video when possible. Aside from that, there is a short bio of the authors the reader discovers, and their bibliography, with the possibility to link to a web shop, so you can immediately buy a book you discovered through the app. Partnerships with local bookshops are possible as well.
In addition to the immediate reward of discovering an interesting story behind a well-known book, or stumbling on a writer you have never read before, some gamification concepts are built in, e.g. when the reader discovers five passages by the same author, you get a discount for his or her last novel.
Passage is hyperlocal. It uses iBeacons (Bluetooth Low Energy emitters originally developed for indoor proximity sensing) to trigger the app instead of regular geo-fencing for several reasons: people are wary of applications that track their every movement (privacy), geo-fencing is not really hyper-local (accuracy), and it drains the phone’s battery quickly (convenience).
The team behind it is currently preparing a pilot setup in Bruges and a few other cities in Flanders, in a partnership with WPG Publishers, a major trade-publishing house in the Benelux. Interested publishers in Belgium or other countries are welcome to collaborate on the project.
The role of technology
As for iBeacons, a beacon is a low-cost piece of hardware that enables fine-grained location awareness in smartphone apps. A beacon emits a signal using Bluetooth low-energy that can be picked up by an smartphone app hereby determining its proximity to the beacon. Depending on the use case, the app can execute the appropriate action when this proximity is established, such as a check-in on social media or a notification to the user. Beacons come in various shapes and sizes and are manufactured by several vendors. Most devices are low-cost and many are powered by coin cell batteries. Some have bigger batteries and can last for years.
Apple has an implementation called iBeacon that works specifically with iOS devices (iPhone, iPad). For the sake of interoperability and openness, an initiative towards an open standard, called AltBeacon has been started.
Geo-fencing on the other hand is a very expensive technology for battery life because the app has to monitor the GPS location (using satellites and cell towers) continuously, and for that same reason, the app has to be running for an action to occur. Geo-fencing is not very accurate (in cities typically > 50m) and doesn’t work reliably indoors.
Beacons do not require GPS, proximity sensing is accurate to within the centimeter-range, it works indoors as well as outdoors, and the companion app only has to be installed once: it will be triggered even when dormant.
Passage won the first Book Lab Award at the Converging Media Conference 2014 in Ghent, Belgium.
The app will be multilingual, and supports separate datasets per publisher, city, etc. Language support and local data will be developed according to interest from publishers.