Five years ago, when the Internet was still sluggish, I had an idea for story-telling that would be unique to the medium, such as it was: take the voice of an author reading his or her short story and add visuals (photos, illustrations, words as graphic images), music and sound effects. The goal was to take advantage of what the web could handle to create something that mimicked, in some way, the magic of a reading-type experience - a collaboration of the imagination between an author and reader. I found a partner, Paca Thomas, who took a story I'd written and added those extra elements, and the result was "Craziest."
Well, that was fun, but not exactly a business model. I looked at the various entertainment media and focused on publishing, which seemed to be the most apprehensive about embracing technology. This idea of video literature could be used to time -- and place -- shift an author's reading -- no small advantage, since promotional book tours were becoming obsolete. We could have an author read an excerpt from his or her book, as if at an in-store reading, and add those other elements to replace the live aspect. We would be respectful of the nature of the author/reader relationship by not showing a character -- leave that to the imagination -- and not making it seem like a movie trailer. We would just provide a brief experience of the book. That provided a quasi-business model, and the results can be seen here.
As I look around the book promotion landscape now, I see it littered with trailers that not only show what a character supposedly looks like, but also tell you the entire story. That's not entirely negative, though. The up side of this development is that the publishers have finally realized they are part of the entertainment business. They can no longer market to an increasingly elite group of people who identify themselves as "readers." They are vying for the same entertainment dollars and hours as television and movies. It's a start.
There is no doubt that the book business is in serious financial trouble, but the realization is dawning that a publishing house - let alone an entire industry -- can no longer survive on the strength of one series (a la Harry Potter). Books need to come out faster and in all forms -- audio, digital, and enhanced, which means skillfully embedding audio and visuals to enrich, not interrupt, the reading experience.
At the same time that the traditional publishing industry is flailing, the popularity (on radio and podcast) of This American Life and The Moth indicate that story-telling -- and especially short-story-telling -- has never been more popular. In this era of shrinking attention spans, the short story is the perfect format to transition an e-mailing, Facebooking, reading-all-day-long computer user from the information-filled screen to the story-telling page (either actual paper or whatever other device conveys text)? When I've got a little time to kill, I would be just as happy to read a short story as listen to a few songs on my iPod. Can't reading be made to seem as cool?
I'm certainly not suggesting that we get rid of the book, although I do love my Kindle. I'm simply saying that we need to embrace technology to tell stories in the myriad of ways that they can be consumed if we are to foster a new generation of readers and story tellers.