I Have A Dream…The Literary Review of the 21st Century

December 1st, 2008 · 9 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

I have a friend who is heading off to Paris for a long vacation. I guess she wanted to see how the other half — the people who survive in cold parts of the world — live. My Paris experience was in February, standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower on a cold, clear winter night, the city below me. The halls of the Louvre are astoundingly empty during that time as well.

Is this a big, crazy idea that will take a lot of time and effort and smarts? Of course.

This isn’t, of course, about Paris. My friend’s trip reminded me of something else — in preparation for her trip, she acquired a Kindle (this season’s first official sold-out holiday item) and was loading it up. As she listed the books she’d purchased and acquired (within a matter of moments), she noted, as an afterthought, that she still needed to set up newspaper subscriptions.

I get the Los Angeles Times on my Kindle and the experience rather underwhelming. It’s that confusion caused by the scroll wheel — there are things the Kindle does really well; there are things the Kindle doesn’t. Newspapers are not books, and I’m hoping the overall experience of reading news on the Kindle changes. Number one hint: the LAT uses Twitter amazingly well, realizing that news happens after the print edition goes to press. In a world where we expect our news to be current, does it really make sense to recreate the print experience on the Kindle?

This isn’t, of course, about newspapers. I applaud the major publications that are available on the Kindle — kinks will be worked out over time. Every possible way to connect readers with content is important. I was privileged to be part of a great discussion sponsored by the Book Industry Study Group last week. The first three speakers (Steven Pendergrast of Fictionwise, Jane of Dear Author, and moi, with more to come next month) had amazingly similar ideas, though our presentations were very different. Great minds and all that — and those minds talked about the importance of making it easy for people to read stuff.

I was heartened when Steven discussed the all-important accessibility issues that are addressed by electronic books. The number one question I get about my Kindle is “Can you make the font bigger?” Yep, I say, it’s as easy as this. Sighs of relief all around (note: for those of you who, uh, sometimes find yourself reading in low light, bigger font = easier to see in the dark. Not that I advise reading in low light or anything, but things happen).

Women were also discussed: a lot of women buy ebooks (which you already know because you are a regular reader of this site). This means that when you talk about reading electronic books, you have to talk about how women read. This means addressing simple notions such as flexibility (when your demographic is reading everywhere from the office to the couch to soccer practice, how do you make their experience the best?) and price. Also, variety.

This isn’t, of course, even about the Kindle. It’s about what I’m seeing as a great opportunity for content delivery. Subscriptions. Short content that isn’t news or how to lose weight in seven days or less. Stories, analysis, reviews, bookish stuff that isn’t books.

What I’m talking about is a little bit literary journal (how is it that Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine are the only real choices available a year into the Kindle store?), a little bit book review, a little bit opinion, and lot of bit accessible to a wide range of readers. Make it weekly and make it meaty. Curated, edited, interesting. Make it subscription-based and one-off. Give me short stories that make me think, give me book reviews that acknowledge that I read across the spectrum, let me read about reading…oh, and make it linkable so I can engage in the conversation as necessary.

Oh, and don’t limit your publication to the Kindle or Sony e-Reader or iPhone or Stanza or any one device or platform or style. If someone wants this in physical format, make it print-on-demand. Put it in bookstores.Let your customers decide how they want to read your products. We’re very smart people. We can figure this stuff out on our own.

I know what you’re thinking: how can we afford to do this wonderful thing? Subscriptions alone won’t cover the costs. No, not at first, maybe not ever. Amazon certainly has enough cash to kick in, Sony could help, heck, Google is dripping money (as is Microsoft). Various publishing houses great and small could contribute. Booksellers, too. Make it an industry-wide initiative to come together and introduce great reading to readers.

Is this a big, crazy idea that will take a lot of time and effort and smarts? Of course. A girl can dream, right?

File Under: Non-Traditional Publishing

9 responses so far ↓

  • Jane // Dec 1, 2008 at 11:14 am

    You argue that subscriptions alone won’t cover the costs. I think that depends on the depth of the ebook market. I.e., apps on the iphone that sell for a one time fee of $.99 to $4.99 can make the developer a boatload of cash. I read where one developer quit his job after raking in over $240K in just a few months of sales.

    The iPhone app store, however, serves millions of customers and therefore, you only need a tiny percentage of the market to make a financially viable product.

    If there were 1 million customers of ebooks, how many would need to subscribe to make something like you suggest viable? 10% at .99 a month? That would translate into nearly $100,000 per month in revenue.

  • Kassia Krozser // Dec 1, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Maybe subscription can cover costs, but I think it will be slow-going (though you’re right to say there are many factors at play), and start up costs need to be considered. ‘Cause you know I’m dreaming of a world where people get paid for their content, that sort of thing. But, then again, it’s a numbers game.

    Of course, I’m dreaming (it’s a fantasy for now, right) of a big project with lots of moving parts. If I scaled it back to something more like a daydream…

  • antoine // Dec 1, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    When I poked and prodded a kindle at BEA, I asked the representative whether I could make the font smaller. He blinked, showed me how, and remarked that no one had ever asked him that.

    I’m waiting for the Plastic Logic Reader.

    As for the subscription idea, aren’t all these readers bound to become wireless Internet devices too? Seems like hosting a web portal for subscription based fiction would work better in tv long run. Of course, everyone is used to getting content for free these days, so I dunno.

  • antoine // Dec 1, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    tv = the

  • Kassia Krozser // Dec 1, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Antoine — I firmly believe that people are willing to pay for quality (and convenient) content, and sure, a subscription-based portal can be part of the dream (dream big, why not?). The key here is to create good reading — lots of good reading that appeals to a crazy range of readers — and get it to those readers in the way that suits them best.

    I’m focused on the Kindle personally because I love the notion of pushing content to me, to something I carry in my purse (sometimes, sigh, the laptop is just too heavy to haul around). My iPhone is great, but not always optimal for certain kinds of reading. But would I want to access content this way? Absolutely — the iPhone with its wireless web access would be a boon in Vroman’s. The Kindle is great for long-term curled up reading. The laptop for when I’m at my desk (or curled up, let’s be honest about the amount of time I spend with this machine). A paper book for other moments.

    Oh yes, I want it all, and I want it to be good.

  • Angela James // Dec 1, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    When I poked and prodded a kindle at BEA, I asked the representative whether I could make the font smaller. He blinked, showed me how, and remarked that no one had ever asked him that.

    That’s the one thing I get asked most often. Almost everyone asks.

    Kassia, will she be able to get the subscriptions while in Paris? I couldn’t access any wireless on the Kindle while I was in NZ/Australia. I think the wireless capabilities only work in the States, so she might want to wait until she returns to do it.

  • Kassia Krozser // Dec 1, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    I *think* (in other words, may totally be making this up) that the usb thingy allows you to download content. I, naturally, left for the UK without bringing my cable (heck, I was lucky to pack myself), so haven’t actually tested it. Did warn her about this eventuality…hated that the wireless didn’t work once I left the U.S. Compensated by, uh, accidentally buying big thick books from Waterstones (Kate Atkinson and Marion Keyes — life is good!).

  • Angela James // Dec 2, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Yes, that’s right, you can transfer content via the USB cord (just did it last night, actually). I didn’t think of that for a newspaper subscription because I just think of them as being wireless. But if you want a certain US paper, I guess hooking your Kindle up to your computer is just as easy as trying to find one overseas.

  • Kim Werker // Dec 2, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Big-time fantasies about such things are one of my favourite things — especially when they start to bleed into reality.

    What would start-up costs look like for something like this? If it’s initially all digital (with POD), there’s relatively little by way of overhead; though development costs could be significant (but only in the beginning). So that leaves people. How many people? An editorial staff, writers, designers, a publisher, technical mavens. I doubt a pilot issue or two would be prohibitively expensive, which should make initial investment a realistic goal. Then, once the journal sticks (and of course it would, what with the brilliant content and flexible distribution), having a subscription model that’s sustainable would be a wonder in itself (one worth striving for, in my opinion).

    Seems you sucked me into your fantasy.