A colleague directed me to an article by A.O Scott in the New York Times, painting a possibly rosy future for the short story and for short story writers.
This fellow's got some high apple pie in the sky hopes.
A snippet at the end, and the penultimate paragraph both caught my eye. Last things first...
The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers.
The novel is not dead, but it is transitioning and competing in a crowded marketplace? But does that mean the short story will resurface?
I do believe that the short story is and always will be the best companion to film that literature can provide. Novels just don't translate that well to film. Short stories can also live on as audio stories, in graphic form, and adapted for television. All of the above are viable markets for short story writers. It's just to bad that there is nothing to be had from the publishing of the stories themselves.
If short stories are a viable path for a writer, they are path for, perhaps, creative growth, but not financial. I think the only course most short fiction writers have is to put their stories out there with the knowledge that in the short to mid term there will be no hope of recompense, but there may be the hope of a lucrative rights offering.
Which brings me to the penultimate paragraph...
The new, post-print literary media are certainly amenable to brevity. The blog post and the tweet may be ephemeral rather than lapidary, but the culture in which they thrive is fed by a craving for more narrative and a demand for pith. And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?
Ah I do love his hope and unbridled enthusiasm. Shame about the dearth of logic, though.
Sure I'll pay a buck for a song. $0.99 for Sammy Davis Jr. tearing it up with Mr. Bojangles? You bet! I am there. $0.99 for the latest short story from [insert writer here]? Maybe not.
Why? A buck ain't no thang. Why, Ricky Gervais has made a killing by charging listeners a pound per podcast for his periodic comedy podcast. That seems to do well. But would people pay the same about for 20 pages of well written fiction? It's still a good deal. I mean a buck or a pound for a half hour of entertainment? It costs twice that to play the average arcade game these days. So the price isn't much at all.
I don't think they would.
A song is not the same as a story. A song I will listen to and re-listen to hundreds of times. A short story I will read once, and once only. On the rarest of occasions, I might re-read a story again if I am studying it or want to glean something about it for my own use. I do this with Chekov's stories. But otherwise it's just a one night stand.
Another reason why a buck a story is a bad deal is because it becomes expensive to build a decent collection, and even if you did build a collection, it is a collection that is hard to know or engage. Think about it. A song takes two to three minutes to hear. You hear innumerable songs everyday and when you come across them later, you might buy the ones you remember liking to listen to later. But you don't read short stories randomly, and once you have read one, why would you buy it for later? Also, why would you build up a library of unread stories, especially if you don't know which ones are good or not? It's a real bother is what it is.
But does that mean there is no hope? No. not at all.
I think, perhaps, that the short story in a textual form may become viable based on a different model. Not a buck a story, but a quarter? Maybe. Even better, what about a subscription? On it's own or bundled in with something else? You could select X stories a month, say, and just pick them out of that online library when you want them. Amazon or a publisher markets a story, makes, gives a teaser at the end of an article or other story, and tries to gauge your interest.
There are definite possibilities, but perhaps not a definite likelihood.