Short stories as a new form of mobile entertainment

Currently authors can expect to receive a single digit percentage of their book sales. For those lucky authors who manage to find a publisher, the range of work the publisher is willing to take is usually limited to full length books, leaving the authors’ collections of short stories as an untapped resource.

Reading for any length of time on a mobile phone places considerable strain on the eyes, primarily because mobile phone screens emit light, as opposed to books and printed publications which reflect light.

So, on the one hand you have a group of content producers who desire a more direct route to market for their short form content and, on the other, you have a group of consumers who want quality reading material, but only if it can be consumed in limiting viewing time.

This is the market opportunity identified by Maureen Scott and Ether Mobile, a niche digital publisher created to bring short stories direct to mobile devices. The Ether Mobile team has direct experience and contacts with publishers and authors, a network which has allowed them to quickly source and produce some valuable, often previously unseen, short-form content from recognised international authors. They’ll be announcing names at the London Book Fair in a few months.

Scott described this part of the process as challenging, but ultimately a significant differentiator for their business if they can get it right. This includes a rigorous editorial policy to ensure the best content and even going to such lengths as manually translating long-hand, hand-written original manuscripts into the mobile ePub format.

The next step is delivery, which Ether Mobile intends to achieve through a mobile app tuned for viewing short stories on small screens. The user experience focuses on making this as presentable as possible within the limited space of the mobile display, but also on promoting sharing and communication channels between authors and readers.

The initial launch will be an iPhone application, Apple’s rigorous approvals process permitting (Ether has already changed its name from Ether Books to Ether Mobile to avoid potential conflict with Apple’s own publishing ambitions). Additional platform support is planned to increase distribution.

I was impressed by the potential here: a valuable and under-utilised content source, combined with a strong usage case and good consumption characterstics. This could be one of the new forms of mobile entertainment experience we’ll be looking at during the MEX Conference on 19th / 20th May 2010.

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