Exploring the e-essay

I spend *alot* of time on public transport – usually longer than scheduled due to the involvement of First Group in my journies – and one of the things I have noticed (and it has been hard to miss) is the rise and rise of the Kindle. On the train to London particularly it isn’t unusual to see 10 or more (plus a smattering of iPads) in a single carriage and I have a feeling that actually this Christmas is going to see even bigger take-up with the new models and increased ad campaigns.

I have taken to buying pretty much all my new books for the Kindle these days (though I do still frequent second hand bookstores and pick up random paperbacks occasionally) using the various apps across multiple devices…and I read alot…but the thing I have become increasingly interested in is the idea of things like Kindle Singles and the Atavist. These are both attempts to create a market for long-form essay style journalism – something more in-depth than a single magazine article but alot less than a book (personally I think this kind of length would have been perfect for just about every book by Seth Godin, Clay Shirky, Chris Anderson et al..).

To date I have been nothing but disappointed with the e-magazines for both my iPad and the Kindle so this different format is very interesting to me.

A big challenge will be building sufficient awareness that this sort of content is out there as I certainly don’t think this has been cracked yet (which would probably mean getting a few authors with the kind of following that would get a bigger buzz going than exists at the moment..) Also there is the price-point. How much would people be willing to pay when so many are used to getting content for free – how do you convince them of the added value.

I think there is something in this – I like the idea of having commute-ready articles on hand when I need them (similar to what Kevin was talking about) and I still have a healthy respect for good, well written and researched journalism. I have other sources for the news and fast breaking stuff what I am interested in is the analysis and someone taking the time to craft a compelling narrative – I will pay for that (but not much!)

The Atavist seems to see itself more as a publisher and looks to add value but adding interactive elements to the stories as well as (in the iPad version at least) some well thought out internal navigation aids. I’m not 100% sold on the interactive additions but I can absolutely see the thinking (and have certainly thought about that myself in the past) but the nav stuff is a really nice touch. I think if I was ever going to produce an e-essay in this kind of format I’d certainly look at the navigation but would focus more on getting the typography looking as readable and beautiful as possible ahead of any ‘rich media’ additions.

..and I do want to do something in this area. I have an idea for a work project that would be a nice fit if I can convince a few people and I have also been playing around with a couple of ideas for a side project for 2012 that I might run with (if I can rope some other people in!).  I like the idea of ‘digital pamphlets‘  – especially with the historic elements around protest and arguments as that seems a nice fit for the times and the format.

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