A viable model for journalism + the Longform app

I can’t pretend to be unbiased when it comes to longform journalism ebooks (see previous post on Fairfax Media’s move into ebook publishing).

I’m a journalist who always writes more than she needs to (and feels frustrated at the waste when precious sentences, and even entire interviews forming part of a feature, are cut to fit arbitrary spaces).

I’m an avid reader who loves to consume long features in magazines and newspapers (or better yet, online via my iPhone or iPad).

I’m a publisher with a passion for books, tablets and ereaders who intends to publish longform journalism ebooks (written by others as well as myself) and short fiction – good reads in short bites.

I’m also a part-time student working on a Masters research project entitled “Social reading, longform journalism and the connected ebook”. Over the next four years, I’ll be investigating the processes behind and consumer reaction to publications just like Fairfax Media’s Framed. I’ll be experimenting myself with similar processes, but incorporating subscription updates to journalistic ebooks; links, multimedia and reader feedback within the works themselves; the trail that such works create in social media channels; and the question of which of these connected pieces of content can be considered part of the works themselves.

So, I reckon Stephen Hutcheon is onto something, and I’m putting lots of time and effort – and even some cash – into finding out for sure.

Given the opportunity, journalists will want to delve more deeply into certain stories, and publish longer works that reflect those efforts, rather than the needs of the daily and weekly news cycles.

I feel sure that readers, when confronted with a story of national importance that grabs their attention, as McDonald’s does, or piques their personal interest due to its very localised or specialised subject matter, will enthusiastically spend the odd dollar or two here and there to buy a longform ebook.

That being the case, the ebook also offers (at last) that holy grail for newspapers – a way to make their customers pay for digital content. Just as we’re used to paying for apps, we’re happy to pay for ebooks. Its a business model that works, which is more than can be said for those of most newspaper websites.

Internationally, there are plenty of examples of longform journalism taking off. The Longform app for iPad (from Longform.org) is another recent launch, and worth a look if you’re into in-depth news and analysis. It offers a curated selection of the world’s best feature writing, from sources like the New York Review of Books, Slate and Mother Jones.

I dipped in this week and discovered some quirky pieces I’ll read over the weekend – one on depictions of the librarian in erotic fiction (evidently boys do make passes at girls in glasses), another comparing JRR Tolkien with Christopher Paolini (did you know the former was a terrible uni lecturer?) and a couple looking at the power of Google and Facebook.

The app allows you to read either in the original online format, or in the Longform format either on or offline, with a choice of fonts, adjustible font size and column width. You can read what’s already on offer in the app, adding and removing feeder publications as you go, and saving stories to read later via your onboard Readability account. You can also send articles you find elsewhere in your travels to Longform via Readability, Instapaper and Read It Later, and share any story via email or social media.

Read up. With the rise of the long form, the future of journalism has finally arrived.

SMH joins longform journalism ebook push

Fairfax Media has published Australia’s first newspaper-driven longform journalism ebook.

Framed, by Sydney Morning Herald Asia-Pacific editor Hamish McDonald, is available to Kindle and Kindle app users via the Amazon website, and is priced at $1.99.

It’s a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism, examining a shocking incident in Australia’s history deemed the equivalent to Britain’s Guildford Four and Birmingham Six cases (in which ten individuals were wrongly convicted over IRA terrorism bombings – remember Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father)?

According to McDonald, Australia’s criminal justice system bears similar guilt, for locking up the so-called Croatian Six more than 30 years ago. The young Croatian-Australians were convicted of plotting to plant bombs around Sydney, and each served time in prison. McDonald has found evidence to suggest the men were set up by the intelligence service of the then Communist Yugoslav state.

He tells of the involvement of unwitting police officers (Roger Rogerson was among those who carried out the arrests) who may have acted inappropriately, of a judicial system turning a blind eye to flaws in evidence, and to Canberra officials covering up knowledge of the Yugoslav role.

He speaks to some of the men, and to members of their families. It’s a riveting read – I finished it in 45 minutes.

The 10,000-word title will be promoted via a 2000-word extract published in the print edition of today’s Sydney Morning Herald, on smh.com.au and in the SMH iPad app.

Sydney Morning Herald tablet editor Stephen Hutcheon has managed the project. He told uBookish in an exclusive interview yesterday that the publication came about because the newspaper was unable to publish such a lengthy work in its own pages, either in print, online or via the app.

“It wouldn’t have looked as good as a big block of text online or in an app,” he said, adding that longer pieces like these need extra formatting and breaking up into smaller chunks to work in those formats.

Hutcheon, who has been following developments in ebooks and longform journalism for some time, proposed the long work be published as a Kindle ebook, and having received clearance from the newspaper’s editor and editor-in-chief, went ahead and did just that this week.

“This is a very low key thing,” he said.

“Everyone is just happy to give it a go.

“We’re just seeing whether we can do it, and what the reaction is – whether there is room for longform journalism.”

Initially, Hutcheon submitted the work to Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, but it was rejected – probably because Amazon’s publishing program is, like most of its activities, heavily US-centric. The email he received suggested Fairfax publish the work directly for Kindle themselves.

Hutcheon, who as a former SMH website editor is experienced with html coding, did the file conversion himself once the book was edited in house. He then spent a fitful night hoping the advertised 12-hour turnaround before the ebook would be live in the Kindle store would be accurate. It was, and you can download the book here.

Hutcheon chose the Kindle format because it allowed him to reach a wide audience via the Kindle apps for smartphones and tablets as well as the Kindle device itself. However, he did not rule out making the work available through other channels.

“We haven’t signed away exclusive rights to Kindle,” he said.

McDonald is the author of four previously published books, including Mahabharata in Polyester (2010, University of NSW Press) and Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra (co-authored, 2000, Allen & Unwin).

A former Fairfax journalist, Charlotte Harper worked as a web producer on smh.com.au from 1997 to 2001.