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The Future of Short Stories (part 1)

August 8, 2007

Over the weekend, I wrote a piece about why short stories are still important. In it, I mentioned that I would write more about the future of short fiction, this is the first part of that.

If you look at TV shows today and compare them to shows a decade ago, you would probably find that the type of shows that are on have changed. A decade ago, TV was dominated by loosely joined self contained shows (think Friends or Seinfeld), today it is dominated by shows with strong, detailed plots (think Heroes, Alias, Lost, etc.). What happened?

I think that it was several things. First off, the more involved an audience is with a show, the more likely they will be to watch susequent episodes, and one of the best ways to do this is with an intricate plot. The second part is that technology has made it possible for someone to watch a show even if they missed an episode or two (or even the first half of the season). The result of this is that seasons are beginning to look like long movies, rather than series’ of independent stories. To be fair, intricately plotted shows have been around for quite a while, but the problem was that if someone arrived late or missed an episode, that was usually it, they wouldn’t watch the show any more.

What does all of this have to do with short stories, you ask? It shows that lowering the technological bar can drastically change the landscape, even if it doesn’t revolutionize the market (I don’t know many other people who watch most of their shows off of downloads). In addition to providing a viable medium for short stories, the internet has also lowered the bar for serializing longer works, and as one grows, so will the other. I will be focusing on serialized works for now. This has already worked out for podcasted works (just ask Scott Sigler or J.C. Hutchins), but there isn’t any reason why it wouldn’t work for traditional (written) stories as well.

How would this work? You could release a book in serial form and then offer it in print form if there were enough demand. You could also release the book in serial form at a set schedule, while offering the print version as well if people don’t want to wait. You could release a work serially, charging for each piece for say a month before offering it for free. You could do a tip jar. The possibilities are vast.

The problem for an author here is twofold. First, there is no standard business model that has been proven to work, but that will presumably be worked out. The other problem is that it is difficult for an author to build an audience. You may say that this is always a problem for authors, but I think that it is more so right now, as there isn’t even a place for people to start looking (and hopefully find you).

The first step is for a directory to be created, sort of like, that will allow people to find authors who are digitally serializing their work. If one exists, I would very much like to hear about it, if not, it will be necessary to create it. Either way, the key to success in this arena is organization.

note – I am writing this during my lunch break at work, without access to a Dvorak keyboard setup, so any errors are probably due to that.

You can find Part 2 here.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2007 2:27 pm

    An exceptional idea, Tom. We designed to be just such an aggregator, but of full-length audio books, obviously. Plus we had to invent the whole “listen from the beginning” aspct of our site. I assume you are talking about making stories available through any digital means, including the more common print.

    Hrm. A directory of those who are releasing their short fiction to the masses. To make it work better, it should be more than just a directory. We’ve done that. It needs to be a place to discover and consume the content right there, though giving all the props and branding to the author. That’s the goal, afterall.

    You’ve got me thinking. I’m swamped with enough projects already but would be happy to serve on an advisory board for such a project.


  2. August 8, 2007 4:14 pm

    Thanks for the feedback, Evo.

    I was planning on elaborating more on the idea in a later date (probably next week), but I’ll say a couple of things now. First off, I was thinking of it as being more than just a directory, too, with emphasis on discovery (possibly through networks, and ‘who I am similar to/was influenced by’ sorts of things). As for distribution, I was thinking about mostly rss/email/ebook/pdf, but who knows.

    What strikes me as really bizarre is that no one has done this yet (that I know of). It seems like such an obvious idea, but right now it appears that everyone is focused on the individual stories, and not the larger picture. In any case, someone has to do it.


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