With all of the talk at the moment surrounding digital publishing and the transformation of publishing as a whole, a contradiction in the norms of publishing has emerged for me when discussing short fiction and in particular, short story collections.
See, the norm in publishing is that short fiction collections do not sell as well as novels. Big publishers won’t touch them, with only some small presses interested in collections by unknown writers. All of this while we’re told that our attention spans are growing shorter and shorter, we’re becoming wired to the Internet and that the eBook is going to take over from the printed one.
The conclusions may be a little dubious in light of the popularity of books such as Twilight and Harry Potter, forests worth of pages, but I digress.
If we’re all reading blogs, Twittering and waiting for the takeover of the eBook, then surely there is the basis for a revival of short fiction – and indeed the younger brother, flash fiction.
One of the barriers for a lot of people to using the eBook is it being harder to read for long lengths on a screen. It hurts the eyes with the glare. So a novel seems like a daunting thing to read on a screen, but a short story could be the length of a news article that most people read multiples of each day.
Digital books or works of literature are less confined to the laws of economics where the cost of printing a couple of pages of short story wouldn’t be worth it. Amazon Shorts comes to mind. I can imagine selling shorts online for a fraction of the cost of a novel, or even readers subscribing to short story writers. It’s like with iTunes; you can sometimes just buy the single instead of the whole album.
And the shorter length would satisfy our shrinking attention spans. It seems so obvious to me that I’m wondering if I’m missing some vital pieces of the puzzle. Or is just another example of how the desires for profit stifle innovation because publishers aren’t willing to take a risk?