What Will ‘The Future of Storytelling’ Look Like?

Charlie Melcher has been upending traditions and expectations in the publishing industry for more than 25 years. He first broke onto the scene in a big way with Madonna’s notorious “SEX” book, and his company Melcher Media published a string of successful titles ranging from Eminem’s autobiography to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” before Melcher was forced “out of [his] comfort zone” in 2009 by a market that continues to push the industry in a digital direction.

Melcher Media’s first significant digital project was creating an app tie-in to Gore’s most recent book, “Our Choice”. After the app ruled the iTunes store for a few weeks and received both a David Pogue write up in The New York Times and a design award from Apple, Melcher became more fully invested in the idea of “reinventing the book for the digital age” and turning traditional narratives into multi-media experiences.

Melcher has some big ideas about the future that extend well beyond the world of traditional publishing and into the basic practice of storytelling, or the human desire to share and re-share personal narratives that touch us, move us, and even infuriate us. This Friday, October 5th in New York’s Snug Harbor, Melcher Media will host a one-day summit titled “The Future of Storytelling” to begin the complex task of turning those ideas into reality—and you’re invited.

This won’t be your conventional media gathering;

the FoSt community of speakers and performers runs from viral singer/songwriter Daria Musk and OK Go frontman Damian Kulash to Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer and “transmedia” game designer Andrea Phillips; advisors include designer Todd Oldham, venture capitalist Fred Wilson and Mr. Gore himself. Top sponsors include GE and Ogilvy PR.

Here’s the concept behind the event: Our technology has advanced at such a rapid rate that we are stuck playing catch-up. Despite all the changes in the ways we consume information and their effect on the publishing industry, Melcher believes that “at the end of the day, it’s still ultimately about telling powerful stories”. What’s more, tech innovations must be “combined with the storytellers” in order to have the greatest possible impact by facilitating a “renaissance of creativity.”

Inspired by the hugely successful Ted Talks series, Melcher aims to create a community “of storytellers, of traditional media people, of technologists…marketing executives and advertising people” who come together to discuss shared challenges.

He’s taken a few extra steps: Each speaker shot a topical video in advance, and these short films will serve as starting points for larger conversations about the ways in which technology is changing human communication. All the videos will be available online both during and after the event, and speakers will follow up by scheduling events held in Google+ “hangouts” throughout the coming year.

The evening will end with a live performance by Ms. Musk at 8 PM on the Future of Storytelling’s Google+ page. Musk is an artifact of this new media era; she has no record label or representative despite currently boasting more than two million followers.

Mr. Melcher is very clear that the topics discussed at the conference will go well beyond publishing. He tells curious parties not to “think of storytelling as book-based” and claims that the event will concern “every type of traditional media” as well as the “corporate storytelling” of advertising, marketing and branding.

Topics will also include the neuro-chemical nature of narrative and the ways our brains and bodies respond to a good story; related speakers include Sriram Kosuri, a Harvard scientist who has literally encoded an entire 50,000 word book into the genetic molecules of human DNA. A lengthy tome contained in a tiny drop of liquid? As Melcher puts it, “you could store all of human knowledge in a test tube. It’s mind-blowing…It’s such an exciting time to be alive.”

At the end of the day, FoST hopes to begin answering this crucial question: “Our idea of what facts are has changed. Our idea of what experts are has changed. What are the storyteller’s responsibilities and roles in this new world? How will our children and our children’s children learn, be entertained, be informed and communicate?”

Here’s a preview video designed to establish the conference’s tone:

Well, we’re interested. What do you think–Will Melcher’s talks go viral?

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.