There is another, intriguing possibility – building a business model around publishing episodic series of content. Audiences understand this model – we’ve been brought up on TV seasons for decades. But freed from the schedule, we’re now consuming episodic series in new ways, from bingeing Netflix box sets to subscribing to podcasts and returning to the cinema for the latest episode in our favourite superhero franchise.
What a good idea! Luckily Medium has Bobbie Johnson on board, who between Ghost Boat and Matter has been responsible at least two serialised product that made editorial sense. Matter, in its early days, was very much that. You essentially subscribed to a series of eBooks delivering longform science and tech journalism. It was great, and I missed it when Medium bought and absorbed it. Still, lots of opportunity here, right?
Last week I was one of the people laid off by Medium. So it goes. I'm good, dreaming up new adventures after 4 ambitious, creative years.
In the Top 500 most-saved articles from the first half of 2015, we found that the average article length is 3,190 words, which would take over 15 minutes to read.
Now, you’d expect that the most popular articles in pocket would skew long – the longer the article, the more likely you are to save it for a moment when you can take your sweet time reading it. But the “peaks” are interesting:
You’d expect the high end to be low, because the number of articles produced at that length is low. Equally, short articles are generally less worth saving. Bit 2k to 5k is a smaller category of article than 1k to 2k, and yet far more are saved.
An interesting suggestion there that we should be going a bit more in-depth with articles than we do at the moment. (1k to 2k is the “classic” feature length everywhere I’ve worked).
Yet almost every example of snowfalling that I’ve seen in action puts reading second to the razzle-dazzle. Can you even remember what happens in Snowfall? Do you remember who wrote it? What did the multimedia help you do? Snowfall was a good story, but it felt as if getting you to read it was the story’s secondary ambition.
Snowfall was an interesting experiment. But the journalism world’s obsession with shiny new tech and finding a single saviour for our profession is leading people to lose sight of context and relevance.
Nearly a week ago, I spent the early evening at the Royal Institution, celebrating the launch of Matter. A few months ago, Matter created a minor sensation in journalism circles by raising many times it goal on Kickstarter to bring its vision of long-form science journalism for the digital age to life. I was a backer of Matter (but not a huge one – it was in the early stage of my freelance working, and I was being careful with my cash), and as a result got immediate access to the new book – the first product of Matter’s funded publishing operation – when it was launched early last week.
I’ve held off on writing about it because I wanted to see the actual result first, to read the matter, as it were, and be able to give you an honest appraisal of how it’s developing. I downloaded the first Matter ebook – Do No Harm – to my iPad, and read it on the train into London. And didn’t think about anything else until I’d devoured the whole thing.
It tells the story of Body Integrity Identity Disorder – an unusual condition where sufferers feel that one or more of their limbs are alien – something that shouldn’t be attached to their body. It also tells the story of one person’s journey to deal with this situation through amputation, meeting some of the significant people in the field as a result.
Make no mistake – this is journalism. It’s storytelling and research mixed together into a compelling experience. Author Anil Ananthaswamy intertwines the narrative of one sufferer of this disorder on his journey to resolution, with the meat of the current scientific and political thinking on the condition. It deserves the length – both the story and the science are compelling, and at any more parsimounous word count, one or the other would have been neglected. In a way, it reminded me of the very best of quality magazine journalism – happy to tell a human story, unafraid of examining something in depth and unflinching in the face of something people will find isturbing.
Was my Kickstarter investment in Matter worthwhile? Based on the quality of this release – yes. The test will be how well they can sustain this level of reporting in the coming months, but I’ll certainly be awaiting the second release eagerly.
Narratively slows down the news cycle. Each week, we’ll explore a different theme about New York and publish a series of connected stories — just one a day — told in the most appropriate medium for each piece. We might feature a longform article with portrait photos on a Monday, followed by an animated documentary on Tuesday, then a photo essay, an audio piece or a short documentary film. Every story gets the space and time it needs to have an impact. We’ll bring you weeks devoted to New York’s waterways, hustlers, sexual subcultures, obscure pastimes and countless other themes. We’ll even get you involved in theme and story selection.
Efforts like this and Matter suggest to me that we’re seeing a push-back against the quicker, faster, more sensational style of online news, and a resurgence of the deeper, longer sensibilities of the feature writer.