Have you dreamed of stepping into the set of your favourite book and experiencing its fictional world through the eyes of the characters? With Malmö start-up Velodrom’s new app StoryTourist, that might actually come true
Stepping into a new world
Deriving from creative backgrounds in theatre and script writing, Johanna Forsman and Andreas Jansson founded Velodrom together and teamed up with programmer Samuel Johansson.
“It’s a good thing we didn’t realise how little we actually knew before embarking on this journey,” says Johanna.
“Developing an app was a more challenging procedure than we could ever imagine. I’m not sure we would have gone through with it had we known!”
A self-confessed bookworm, Johanna found the inspiration behind StoryTourist in her life-long desire to fully grasp the literature in front of her.
“I guess I was a pretty pretentious kid. When I was 15 years old, I started a Kafka book club – as you do,” she says and laughs.
“When I didn’t understand his books, I got seriously annoyed. In hindsight, I realise now it was because of my young age, but at the time I started to come up with ways to help me see the world so vividly described by Kafka. I even considered going to Prague just to read the book in the city where the plot is set so I could understand it better!”
The dream stayed with Johanna. When she met Andreas, live-in partner as well as co-founder of Velodrom, she wanted him to experience that thrill of stepping into a fictional world. The couple went to Berlin, where Johanna had prepared an analogue story tour for Andreas using only pen and paper. The book was Goodbye to Berlin, a 1939 novel by Christopher Isherwood set in 1930s Weimar Germany.
“I told Andreas to go to Nollendorfplatz and sit on a bench while he read a certain chapter in the book. The plot was set outside a specific door opposite to where he was sat. In the book, a man is being chased down the street by Nazis and he is just about to reach the door when they catch him and drag him away,” says Johanna.
“As Andreas was reading, I could see him experiencing the story in a completely different way.”
Andreas shared Johanna’s vision and after their trip to Berlin, the couple decided to take the concept to the next level.
“We didn’t know that much about technology, but developing an augmented reality app seemed to be the most user friendly platform for the concept,” says Johanna.
By using augmented reality, where graphic elements directly are applied to the view of reality through a mobile camera, StoryTourist allows the reader to walk in the footsteps of the characters and follow the plot through their eyes.
The reader gets to choose a story tour close to her or him and the app guides them to the locations where the story is set. Through images, audio, and narration, they get to step into a new world. After following an arrow guiding them to the first location, they get access to the audio and text for that specific place.
“If you are in London and read Sherlock Holmes, you are guided to different locations mentioned in the book and, while you see reality as it is, you might also see a dead body lying in front of you,” explains Johanna.
“You could say we are like the Pokémon Go for stories.”
…nerds are the best. No others are as passionate about books, films or games nor have as many opinions on how things should be.
The trio launched the concept before the app was developed and won several awards for the idea. When StoryTourist was being nominated for Book Tech Company of the Year in London, Johanna and Andreas pitched in front of an audience. A representative from a publishing giant listening to their pitch took a fancy to the concept and decided to take a chance on the start-up despite of there not being any finished product available.
In consultation with this – yet to be revealed – publisher, Velodrom developed their first story tour based on one of the Swedish classics. The title is to be announced shortly, but they let slip that the story is historical and set in southern Stockholm using old photographs to send the reader on a journey to the locations featured in the novel.
“For me, it’s more than just experiencing a story first hand. You really get to know the city you are in, too,” says Andreas.
For stories set in fictional worlds, the literary entrepreneurs consider using locations capturing the essence of the story and places linked to the author.
“It’s important to respect the text, but sometimes you have to be flexible in your interpretation of a book. Just like a scriptwriter adapts a novel to the stage, we adapt stories to the outdoor space to make sure it is a pleasant walking tour. For us, it is all about the reader experience,” says Johanna.
Here’s to the nerds!
Following a study conducted in the Netherlands, a country often used as a test audience as the locals are considered representing the ‘average European’, Velodrom found out that their early adopters should be the same people visiting Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam.
“So we decided to go there ourselves and speak to the people queueing outside. We had an encouraging response: 84% were actively looking for books set in the locations they visit, 78% wanted to download the app and 71% would consider paying for it.”
Considering themselves as being ‘real nerds’, Johanna and Andreas believe that their early adopters will fall into the same category of enthusiasts.
“They are already doing this on their own; going to locations to relive the story of a book or a film. This is our way to praise the nerds!” says Johanna.
“Oh yes, nerds are the best. No others are as passionate about books, films or games nor have as many opinions on how things should be. They are a very useful test audience and provide excellent feedback,” adds Andreas.
Velodrom is in the process of creating a user community where the readers can comment and contribute with ideas.
“We want to know how people think and get them involved from the get-go. How should we portray a certain character? What locations cannot be missed? The community will work as a sounding board for us. In fact, we just appointed a Nerd General to help us build it!”
The aim for the Malmö-based start-up is to expand their story tourism concept to film, music and games. But to start out, they are focusing on literature.
“We are lucky because there is so much available in the public domain, like Dracula, Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes,” says Johanna.
To help them with copyright issues and prior art queries, Velodrom has been consulted by Awapatent Associate Viktor Johansson.
“He has really helped us how to think regarding copyright. It is essential that we respect others’ IP rights,” says Johanna.
The start-up also has an ongoing patent monitoring via Julia Mannesson, European Patent Attorney at Awapatent.
“It is priceless to have Awapatent by our side as IP questions arise along the way. Many start-ups believe that they are too small to consider IP, but it is the opposite. You should always prioritise your IP from the very start. Our IP rights have also helped us when pitching to investors.”
StoryTourist’s goal is that wherever you go in the world, there should be a story available to experience. The next destination will be London.
In the immediate future, they are establishing a business model and sourcing literature to improve the platform.
“It is amazing to see something that you’ve dreamed of for so long finally coming true. What drives me is the feeling that I tried to give Andreas in Berlin; to step into a story and see the world through the characters’ eyes. It adds an extra dimension to the experience of reading a novel,” says Johanna.