Elegant Themes Blog

Stay up to date with our most recent news and updates

Storytelling: An Emerging Niche In The WordPress Market

Posted on February 14 by in Editorial | 29 comments

Storytelling: An Emerging Niche In The WordPress Market

It’s a curious thing: the relationship we humans have with stories. From before the dawn of civilization we have evidence that humans, in caves, on mountain walls and within the confines of their tribes, told stories to each other. From those ancient cave paintings, to the oldest oral traditions, to the written word and into the current internet age, an undeniable pattern has emerged: every medium we’ve ever invented for communication is eventually used as a means to tell each other stories.

It should come as no surprise then, that this is precisely the case with WordPress. What began as a means of “public journaling” (blogging) and news or news style entertainment (see: Mashable, Buzzfeed, etc.), has now begun to make the shift into more complex and diverting forms of storytelling. It’s an exciting time!

That’s why in today’s post I want to provide you all with a lay of the land so to speak, of this fascinating new niche in the WordPress market.

A Spark of Snow

Snow-Fall

While my own journey with WordPress and storytelling goes all the way back to 2007, it took the publication of The New York Times’ epic Snow Fall, in 2012, to ignite the collective imagination of developers, web designers and storytellers the world over. Their unique and clever coverage of the avalanche at Tunnel Creek is nothing short of breathtaking. If you haven’t read it, do that today!

Since that story was published, scores of similar long-form stories from individuals and companies alike have flooded the web. You can see a whole slew of them here.

A Product Vacuum

Unfortunately, the reality for the average human being–and therefore the average storyteller–was that even though many tech savvy designers and developers were now empowered to tell new kinds of stories online, no simple, free (or at least affordable) tools existed that made the same thing possible for everyone else. But there was WordPress; free, open source, and full of innovative community members.

That’s why I wrote Storytelling With WordPress: 3 Unique and Innovative Ideas, back in the spring of 2013. My hope was that other like-minded individuals within the larger WordPress community would see that post and begin a movement to empower the average human being with the ability to collectively create a whole new era of storytelling.

Which is how I met Nick Haskins.

The Aesop Story Engine

turtle-hare

Nick is the creator of a new open-source WordPress plugin called Aesop, named after the ancient storyteller known to us via Aesop’s Fables. You may have seen this new plugin making the WordPress blogosphere rounds lately or even helped to fund it.

Nick commented on my post (linked above) in November and dropped a link to his new tool, which was an even earlier beta than is featured in most of the promotional posts since. Of course I immediately reached out to him and we began talking about how we could collaborate to make Aesop even better.

Ultimately, though we shared a lot of ideas back and forth, we are not currently official partners–though it’s not entirely out of the question. I mention this in the name of full disclosure, just in case we do end up working more closely in the future. But enough personal details. Let’s talk about how Aesop works and how it has the potential to bust open a whole new niche market for WordPress!

The Aesop Story Engine contains two files: a CSS file (4.8kb) and a JS file (29kb). The CSS contains the basic styling needed to display the plugins 12 storytelling components. Here are the descriptions of each, as listed on the official Aesop website.

  1. Audio: Display an audio player with support for MP3. This is great for showcasing audio interviews.
  2. Video: Showcase a fullscreen video with support for Kickstarter, Viddler, YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion, and Blip.TV.
  3. Content: The content component is a multi-purpose component that can display a background image, background color, or can split the content into multiple magazine type columns.
  4. Character: Display a character avatar, title, and small bio to help readers be reminded of key story characters.
  5. Galleries: The ASE Gallery component allows you to create and manage unlimited story galleries. Each gallery can be displayed as a grid, a thumbnail gallery, or a stacked type gallery, all with caption support.
  6. Locations: This component allows you to create a map for your story. You can add markers to the map with custom messages. This is a great component for showcasing a characters travels.
  7. Image: The image component displays an image and caption, with optional lightbox. Also allows you to align the image, as well as offset the image so it hangs outside of the content column.
  8. Parallax: A fullwidth image component with caption and lightbox. As you scroll, the image moves slightly to provide a parallax effect.
  9. Quote: Show a fullwidth quote with large text. Control the color and background of the quote component.
  10. Timeline: Create a story with a timeline that sticks to the bottom. The timeline works a bit like chapters.
  11. Document: This component allows you to upload a PDF or image, that is shown to the user once they click the component.
  12. Collections: This component is meant to be used on a page of your site, and allows you to display stories from a specific collection (category).

The beauty of this approach is that it will provide massive value at the free level (anyone will be able to get the Aesop engine from the official WordPress.org plugin repository) and at the same time open up all kinds of new possibilities for ALL theme developers interested in servicing this niche.

Endless Possibilities

The potential for new premium storytelling themes and other complementary story plugins is vast. A fact not lost on many of WordPress’ biggest movers and shakers, including: Pippins Plugins, WooThemes, Envato, and WPEngine–all of which helped to crowd fund Aesop.

While I’m sure all of these companies have big ideas for Aesop compatible themes, one of my first thoughts since its explosion in popularity is how perfectly positioned Elegant Themes is for this new trend. Armed with the Elegant Page Builder (and especially new themes like Divi), it’s already possible to tell great stories with Elegant Themes–in a drag and drop environment no less!

I for one, am looking forward to seeing what comes next. Who will provide the best tools? Which users will rise up to become the next Alfred Hitchcock of interactive storytelling? What does the business end (for theme companies and storytellers alike) actually look like. These are all questions I’m excited to explore and speculate on in 2014. Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

29 Comments

  1. Hi Nathan,

    You are a true writer, like your style. :)

    Do you know any good example of how someone has used Aescop? And let me ask another question (my head is full of numbers right now cause I’m only taking a short break from doing my taxes)… Did you suggest using Divi (I love Divi) instead or with the plugin?

    Thanks!
    Tanya

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Tanya,

      I think it’s too early to tell which themes or plugins will work best for telling stories. This whole niche is just too new. However, we can discover those answers together as we experiment and push the boundaries of the various tools at our disposal. I know I’m working on a few projects right now (they’re still in pre-production) where we plan on testing both Aesop and Divi–separately and together–to see what works best.

      That said, I do have a guess or hypothesis as to what we will discover. Aesop will almost certainly work best with themes designed specifically for storytelling. Divi and the Elegant Page Builder already have a lot of storytelling components available in a drag and drop environment and so I think it may be possible to do a lot of the same things with both sets of tools (Aesop and Divi) but the really interesting things will probably begin to happen when they’re designed to work together.

      I’m not sure what that looks like yet but I’m excited about the possibilities!

      Best,

      Nathan

      • Well, I know I have lots of stories to tell and I am sure that Divi will be perfect to tell them. But I really like the timeline idea. We’ll see what happens.

        Btw. … I just launched a multi-subdomain page built with Divi: http://dvud.de I love how Divi supports multi-site design.

        But let’s get back to story-telling. My first story will be about my first “urban love”: Berlin… <3

  2. Hi Nathan,

    I have one quick question. Are “Aesop’s”, Word Press plugins, MAC compatible?

    Look forward to your answer.

    Thanks,

    Jim Dasher
    Spectrum Graphics

    Edmonds, WA
    (Seattle metro area)

  3. Wow.
    I was going to try something like this using Divi and parallax in March when me and my three wriggly kids go on vacation to Florida. We are going to use Elegant Themes to create a blog for their classmates. This article was inspiring (thank you!) and I got a chuckle reading Haskin’s filler copy on his aesop story demos: “Curabitizzle fo shizzle!”

    Tell me though, asked by someone who has obviously never used Aesop, what is the big advantage to installing the aesop plugin over using Divi with parallax?

    Thanks so much for the inspiration and heads up!
    Andi

  4. As a writer and storyteller who has to moonlight as a web developer, this blew me away. I was planning on using a similar setup for the marketing of my new novel, but I had no idea just how far I could go with this. In fact, I will try to merge my storytelling abilities with my web development needs even more!

    Thank you so much!

    /Alec

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Alec, I’d love to keep in touch as you experiment and share technique observations as well as tricks and tips as they’re discovered. I’m working on a few stories in this format right now and would be more than happy to share what I’m learning and learn from your discoveries too.

  5. Nathan, am so excited by this trend! Like you, I read Snow Fall and was transported by the story, its presentation, sad ending, and cautionary note.

    My blog is all about biography with a few interviews thrown in. I’ve been wanting to differentiate these profiles from the books I publish based on them. I’m planning to migrate to Divi shortly and will definitely look into trying something like this! Thank you.

      • Who would not love Divi? ;)

      • Just checked at your site, Tanya. It looks fantastic! I’m fascinated by your multi-subdomain approach. I need to do something similar, so I’m happy to hear Divi will handle it. I’m by no means a tech guru, but I am looking forward to tackling this.

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Feel free to find me via google+ or my website and drop me a link to that. I’d love to see how that plays out.

  6. That’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in awhile. Wow. Didn’t even know about Snow Fall but I’m hooked on the whole concept.

  7. Great post Nathan!
    Very inspiring and Snow Fall… wow what a moving story when delivered like that. I never knew stories could become so alive. This will no doubt become popular.
    We have the perfect project for our Divi theme and the Aesop plugin. Ideas are flying already.
    All the best,
    CJ

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Glad to hear it! I know something I’m doing as I begin experimenting with these tools is documenting the process as I go along. That way I’ll be able to publish case studies of how these new storytelling components can be used to best communicate. If that becomes a common practice in the larger WordPress community I think we could quickly begin to discover ideal use cases for each component and progress or “mature” the art form more quickly.

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Thanks Nick! Hope when we both get a chance to slow down a bit we can talk more. Keeping making rad stuff!

  8. I’m not a storyteller as such, but I do write 4 to 6000 word articles quite often and I can think of a hundred ways to use this! With Divi as the cake and this as the frosting……….

    One thing I would like to see is the ability for the theme/plugin to remember where the reader left off in the story (like kindle does with books)

    • Nathan B. Weller

      Yeah man, I’m right there with you. I already have a whole “wish list” of cool UX features. Both for storytellers and readers.

  9. I like stories… but in 12 months I had only 5 (five) templates from Eleganth. My subscription is near end, and this is true story!

  10. Amazing. Thank you for sharin, Nathan!

  11. This is absolutely a wonderful article and Aesop looks outstanding. I have been working on a book for a while… and thinking I may publish parts of it on the Aesop engine when it is ready.

    I think it rocks.

    • Learning about Aesop makes me feel like I’m on fire. Life changing. As a “non-technical” creative person, it is ineffably significant to find tools that bridge the gap so skillfully. I was BLOWN away by Snow Fall when it was printed. That experience, this post, Aesop…It is one of those rare moments where one can see the dots connecting in reverse. Thank you.

  12. It’s an interesting thought, that all of our technology has eventually been turned back to story-telling. Even cloth and fabric couldn’t help but be woven together into visual stories eventually. The potential for the web, by contrast, is pretty mind-boggling!

    And thanks for linking to Snow Fall. Awesome example :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current ye@r *

Join 253,319 Happy Customers And Get Access To Our Entire Collection Of 87 Beautiful Themes For The Price Of One

We offer a 30 Day Money Back Guarantee, so joining is risk-free!

Sign Up Today