The new dawn of fiction – how reading can survive in the modern age

Last week, a consortium of Dutch publishers unveiled the so called “delay app”, which allows the reader to choose a story to read while waiting. It allows the user to chose a story from a well-known Dutch author to match the time you spent waiting, from 5 to 60 minutes. It still has some issues: the app contains a certain amount of stories so no new content can be added and it is only for the iPad and iphone. 

No dynamic content and no non-Apple platforms does severely restrict the usefulness of the app, in my view, and it does indicate that publishers are not fully aware of the need to publish on as many platforms as possible to reach the new reader. But it is a commendable attempt to try and get to grips with the opportunities of digital reading.

Because what this app tries to do is exactly what publishers need to do. The combination of online and mobile gives the modern reader a plethora of moments in the day to read and they’ll be wanting content to match their needs.

Being delayed is one of those moments when most people will be looking for something to do for a few minutes. Matching the length of the story with waiting time is an excellent way of competing with those other favorite past times while waiting, such as listening to music or smoking.

Much has been said of the new and exciting possibilities of the e-book, and with the imminent introduction of the ePub3 file format it will be possible to enrich or enhance a book with every kind of media imaginable. For certain types of books this will result in exciting products – I’m thinking of the Solar System App or the D-Day App.

Apps like this offer a great visual experience and value for money, but I find it hard to see them as books. They has moved away from what reading a book is for most people: immersing yourself in the written word, taking a moment for yourself. In the end, reading is a very personal experience.

Publishers on the general fiction and non-fiction market will do well to remember that it doesn’t matter on what medium you read – it will always be that moment you spend alone with the text.

For a general publisher, the road to success does not lie in enhancing text with all kinds of bells and whistles, but in finding new ways aand those new moments to engage the reader in the text. It means matching the needs of the reader with the books. One of the new ways of doing so, is measuring a book’s length not in pages, but in reading time.

The first step, as the Delay App demonstrates, is categorizing your existing content. The second step will be to create new content to spec. A story for waiting ten minutes. A novelette for the one hour train ride. A novel in 5 minute chapters. A 400 page novel for those people who have a night to themselves.

If you want the new generation of readers to read, give them the content that fits the new digital world. Give them something for anytime, anywhere. I call this the New Dawn of fiction. Suddenly, we’re free of page restraints.

Amazon caught on to this early with their Singles. Cheap, of variable length, readers can take their pick – I particularly like the Lunchbreak Thrillers. Harlequin has something similar, The snag is, in my view, in both examples, the product consists of traditional formats, usually with a form of DRM.

A better example of how things are done in the new age of fiction is Daily Lit, where readers can choose their content, choose the time they want it delivered, the format, the platform. It is fully integrated with the world of social media. Although the Delay app is a good first try, the key to digital reading will be accessibility and user friendliness. In other words, service.

We’re lucky. General (non-) fiction is extremely suited for the new market. It lends itself to all formats, to all lengths, it can be adapted to suit every mood and fancy and since it’s just text, it’s very friendly to our modern data-heavy environment.

I’ve said it before: publishers must focus on the quality of their content. Forget all the fireworks. Go back to basics and make your content mobile.






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