Saturday, April 24, 2010

Does Size Matter?

We applaud the move by Ether Books into the digital short story. It makes perfect sense to us but is a significant model change for many. We suggest that the question of whether it will work or fails, is not down to the concept, but down to the execution.

Short stories are free from the economic straight-jacket of 250 pages. They break the spine of writing as we have been conditioned to accept. They can be made into collections, be read as instalments or merely stand in their own right. Importantly they can be digested easily on the move and on today’s digital mobiles devices. They not only question the form of the book, but also the concept of the digital reader. After all who need the dedicated eInk reader when you can read it on your smartphone?

As many clamour to add media to the work and create extended books, we would question whether the answer for some is closer to home. Are we confident in the extended book, or is it merely a return to the CD Rom days?

Is the short story a bigger opportunity to today’s publishing model than all the digital devices, extended books, Book Settlements etc?

Writers do not need traditional publishers to produce short stories or even market them. They do need a channel to market, they do need services and devices to distribute and render them, but they don’t need the support infrastructure required to service the book. We personally applaud the Ether initiative but feel it isn’t about their app but about creating the market demand and awareness and perhaps restricting it to an app is like strangling it at birth?

Imagine an iTunes repository full of not albums but tracks? All are priced to buy and easy to enjoy. Imagine the story that is finished by the time the train pulls into the station. Imagine a top ten of short reads? Imagine no DRM restrictions and freedom to share and enjoy? Imagine ‘penny fiction’?

Futurologist and good friend Ray Hammond, recently made us aware of a quote from Winston Churchill, speaking to the Royal College of Physicians, 1942, “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.”

One of the reasons we read newsprint and magazines is because they are readable, summarised and concise. Imagine having to read a magazine article that took all day or a news report that lasted for hours. The short story isn’t a sound bite or a dilution of literary works it is a literary work in its own right. Its just shorter than the economic print run.

Ether Books may not be the answer but we believe it is part of the answer and maybe we are seeing a return of a logical form that connects the writer to the reader. Perhaps the Keitai model will work in the western world after all. Interestingly it starts to offer the opportunity to differnutuate the physical book from the digital one without the level of cannibalisation of the market we see today and also offers a starter pack to build author brands and following and independence from the current ‘must be published or fail’ ethos. It certainly is a far more economic route than multi media for authors.

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