It’s no great revelation that the ways in which we consume media and entertainment have changed over the last two decades. In the music industry, the concept of an entire album listening experience died several years ago at the hands of individual song downloads. This has led to a prevalence of artist creating albums full of HIT singles in place of albums comprised of songs that form a cohesive whole. The days of high concept story albums—think Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, where the individual songs don’t necessarily stand on their own, but when listened to as whole become something essential and even beautiful—are mostly over. Sure, intrepid musicians will on occasion create ‘story’ albums, but the experience is lost on the average listener who shops from the iTunes top 10 singles list.
Similarly, Hollywood is a machine driven by consumer demand, and that demand is for bite-sized entertainment. Modern blockbuster movies are long commercials aimed at no one and everyone. They are designed to engage a broad audience from moment to moment, as opposed to engaging an individual from beginning, middle, to end. The handful of films that dare to start a story in the beginning and take a full 2 hours to finish are labeled as high concept and, if they’re fortunate enough to snag a big name in the lead role, might win a few awards.
Please don’t misinterpret this as a shot at consumerism or some heraldry for ‘the good old days’. While I enjoyed the good old days as much as anyone, I also like the freedom of being able to watch and listen to what I want, when I want. The ability to do that is directly tied to the trends in media consumption I mentioned above. Furthermore, I like a good popcorn flick and lord knows I’ve got my share of top 10 singles on the old iGadget.
My point is that just like how we learn to enjoy different foods from childhood to adulthood as our flavor palette broadens, I think we (as consumers) have learned to ingest our media in different ways as technology has changed. We all have to accept that when change comes for a visit—no matter how welcome it might be—it’s always going to bring along a few ugly cousins. In the end, there really isn’t much else to do but give them a comfy sofa to sleep on and hope they don’t steal the good silverware on the way out.
I’m thinking about all of this lately, because I see changes happening in how we consume written media, and I’m left to wonder if it’s going to similarly alter our taste for it. Amazon’s recent announcement of a sub-$100Kindle and a sub-$200 tablet reader have sent trimmers through the reading world. With the tablet, Amazon has clearly put readers in their sites, similarly to how Apple put listeners in their sites with the advent of iTunes/iPods. You see this tablet is going to be all things Amazon in terms of their video content offerings, music and eBooks. A veritable buffet of entertainment options.
At first blush, it might not seem like such a big thing. After all, we have computers, iPads and other doodads that marry all forms of entertainment onto one device. However, Amazon is certainly one of (if not THE) the top book retailers in the world (both paper and electronic) and up to this point no one has really attempted to give books equal space at the table with video and music downloads. Couple this with the rumor that Amazon is contemplating a book rental service akin to Netflix where Kindle owners pay a flat monthly fee and are able to download as many books as they care to read, and you’ve got the makings of full out assault on the book business.
In the effort of full disclosure, I’m mostly concerned with all of this from the standpoint of an author looking to build a seaworthy business model (ship) prepared to navigate the unpredictable waters of modern-day publishing. Many have theorized that the future of publishing is going to gothe way of short stories or serialized content as more and more folks turn to the instant gratification/entertainment offered by all of these ‘connected’ gadgets. That certainly makes sense, especially in light of a giant retailer pushing written content right alongside its other electronic cousins (music and movies). Plus let’s face it; the attention span of the average person just isn’t what it used to be. Consequently, the idea of giving readers shorter reading experiences that can be digested quickly makes some sense.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to do a couple of more blogs on the topic, specifically thinking about what a ‘Netflix’ model might mean for authors, and what impact it might have on storytelling. I’m going to try to answer questions I’m having, like: Is there a place for long-form fiction in the future? I hope you’ll come back and add your thoughts. This is exploratory in nature, and I certainly don’t claim to have the answers. As always, I’m just one guy thinking aloud.
More near in this blog’s future, in an attempt to get into the mind of modern day authors, I’m going to begin running interviews with various independently published authors. Folks who are daring to carve their own path to publication, paths that many of us may be following in the years to come. I think you’ll really enjoy hearing from these authors, both as readers and writers. They’re all super-smart, engaging and (most importantly) dedicated to the craft. The first interview will be this Wednesday with author, Kimberly Mullican, so please stop by and say hi. Also, if you’ve published a story and would like to do an interview or a guest-post here on the Open Vein, please drop me a line in the comments, via e-mail or on Twitter and we’ll try to make it happen. I’d love to hear from all of you.