April 27, 2011
New models put long-form content in the spotlight
“There’s an irony in the 140-character medium having spawned a resurgent interest in weighty pieces,” observed The Independent last week after the unconventional publication of Jon Krakauer’s 70-page piece “Three Cups of Deceit.” It was another sign that the digital age, with its options to time- and location-shift reading material, appears to be reviving long-form content, one of our “100 Things to Watch in 2011.” The publisher of Krakauer’s exposé is Byliner, a start-up set to officially launch in May. It will offer “Byliner Originals”—described as “Great writers. Great stories. Readable in a single sitting”—that run up to 35,000 words in length (roughly a third of a typical book), according to Publishers Weekly.
Krakauer’s piece, on Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson, was free on Byliner for 72 hours, reportedly garnering more than 50,000 downloads, and is now available as a Kindle Single on Amazon for $2.99. Amazon launched its Singles section as a platform for such long-form journalism (as well as short fiction) late last year, and meaty pieces like “Lost in Kandahar,” by former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, populate its Top 10. In addition to Singles, there’s also Longform.org, Longreads and the Instapaper app, which collects articles for later reading.
Another start-up, The Atavist, adds multimedia (relevant video clips, links, audio, etc.) to substantive articles designed for mobile devices. More than 40,000 Atavist apps were downloaded in its first two months, The New York Times reports. Meanwhile, journalist Geoff Keighley just released his multimedia-enriched article “The Final Hours of Portal 2”—a 15,000-word look at the making of a recent release from hot game developer Valve—as a $1.99 iPad app.
As publishing formats get disrupted, it remains to be seen whether these new models are viable and whether readers already struggling to keep up with stacks of physical and virtual reading will buy in. Rather than view these offerings as too time-consuming, however, readers may well embrace the opportunity to engage with material that requires substantially less commitment than a full-length book.
Photo credit: www.amazon.com/Three-Cups-Deceit-ebook