Books and Publishing in the Digital Age
Digital streaming services are offered for films, TV shows, video games, and music. It looks as though book publishing is the next industry to adopt this business model. This fall Tim Waterstone, founder of UK bookstore chain Waterstones, will launch Read Petite, a subscription streaming service that will offer unlimited access to Waterstones’ library of digital short form fiction for a low monthly fee. Waterstone compares Read Petite’s subscription model to a type “Spotify for books.” Well known and previously published authors’ works will be available to subscribers.
Lending fiction titles for a short period of time is not a particularly new concept. Amazon Prime members who own a Kindle are allowed to “rent” one ebook from the Kindle store each month. Public libraries are currently working with major publishers to find an ebook lending program that adheres more closely to the restrictions placed on physical books. The notable difference is that Read Petite is only offering short form fiction to subscribers.
According to New York Times reporter Leslie Kaufman short fiction has greatly increased in demand and consumption due to digital media and mobile devices. Short stories are brief enough that an entire narrative can be read in a short interval. The format seems to be well suited to a culture that easily engages with material at a quick pace. Reading and sharing short stories online can also help the authors and distributors gain more attention and possibly greater sales.
An interesting opportunity for the resurgence of the serial novel will be introduced as part of Read Petite’s project. Serialized fiction produced by authors such as Charles Dickens gained popularity in the 19th century in response to a rise in literacy and improved production in printing. Digital devices may well become many readers’ preferred method of downloading and reading the next installment of a serial novel.
Read Petite’s short fiction ebook subscription service reminds me of digital subscriptions currently offered by many literary journals and magazines. For instance, a Paris Review subscriber can purchase a digital subscription and use the app to gain unlimited access to the journal’s sixty year archive of notable and emerging writers. Other than having a different selection of writers whose works are available, the service provided by Read Petite does not seem like an entirely new concept. Popular short fiction works are easily found online, and they are often provided for free. I suppose the titles available from Waterstone library will be the most distinguishing factor and a possible key to the project’s success.