Magazines get in the digital long-form game

In a story for the New York Observer, Emily Witt shares journalist David Dobbs’ digital long-form success story. Working with The Atavist, his long-form piece about his mother’s affair with a flight surgeon during the Second World War sold a “healthy five-figure” number of copies through Kindle Singles. As Dobbs received a dollar for every copy sold, his return was much higher than if he had compressed the story and sold it to a magazine.

Earlier this year, even the idea of digital sales of pieces of long-form journalism was new. But since then, numerous options have emerged for writers looking to sell work that’s too short for a book but too long for a magazine. Two venues for long-form work that have attracted a lot of attention are The Atavist and Byliner, both of which pay writers upfront and also give writers a portion of sales from their work. Writers are also seeing success with the Kindle Singles platform, through which writers can publish their own work. It is also a powerful retail partner for startups like The Atavist.
In June, online news site Gothamist threw its hat in the long-form ring when it announced it was looking for pitches from freelancers; the writer chosen would receive $5,000 to write a 5,000- to 15,000-word feature.

Now magazines are getting in on the digital long-form trend. Witt’s story notes that high-profile glossies like GQ and Vanity Fair are experimenting with selling longer digital versions of stories that appear in the magazines. Witt wonders if this means the free online versions of these stories will disappear, and whether The Atavist and Byliner can compete with the magazines and their large, established audiences. She also asks when digital rights to these long-form versions of their work will begin to appear in writers’ contracts; the magazines she spoke to didn’t say what portion of the digital sales go to the writer, if any.

We mentioned in May that the Canadian Writers Group wants to set up an outlet for long-form pieces for Canadian writers. At the time, the CWG’s Derek Finkle said he saw an opportunity to set up a service that shares similarities with The Atavist and Byliner but that would also work with existing publishers. Finkle says they are now talking to potential partners. Keep an eye on Story Board for further updates on CWG’s long-form venture.

Posted on September 19, 2011 at 10:10 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , ,

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