Saturday, December 05, 2009

How much would you pay for a story?

I've had an iPhone for about six months, and have had my Kindle for iPhone app about as long. I love reading with this app. So when I saw the news about the Atlantic Monthly offering Kindle-only downloads, I was very excited...until I saw the price.

Although they publish a fiction issue once a year, the Atlantic hasn't regularly published short fiction since 2005 (Sidebar: the last story the magazine ever published in the "old" format, Michael Lohre's "Bullheads", is one of my all-time favorite stories, an absolute masterpiece about growing old, sacrifice, and dying with dignity. The full-text is here . Highly, highly recommended.). Ostensibly, the magazine's new Kindle offerings--the editors hope to post two new stories a month--are meant to fill this gap.

My main gripe with the move is the asking price: each story will cost $3.99. I don't care how good the individual stories may be--$3.99 is too much to pay for one piece, considering I could download David Foster Wallace's doorstopper Infinite Jest for $9.99, the standard price for most Kindle titles, or this month's entire issue of Electric Literature (with 5 stories) for $4.95. While the editors claim that the Kindle offers the magazine an opportunity to publish novella-length fiction that won't fit in print, charging almost as much as it would cost readers to purchase a newstand issue seems puzzling, if not downright thoughtless.

My suggestion? Knock down the price a little, Atlantic editors. Perhaps to $1.59, which is how much it would cost me to download a story from Holly Goddard Jones' outstanding Girl Trouble directly from Amazon. I'd read many of the stories that appear in Jones' collection when they first appeared in literary journals (and, much later and much deservedly, in prize anthologies like New Stories from the South) and I was grateful that Amazon offered me the opportunity to download the stories I hadn't read one at a time. In fact, this "iTunes for short fiction" model is one I'd love to see e-book publishers and vendors pursue. While I've read entire novels on my Kindle for iPhone, the format seems particularly ideal for stories, which can be read in more manageable bursts. Whether something like this will become more widespread is anyone's guess (and I don't doubt for a minute that I occupy what amounts to a niche-of-a-niche market), but I don't think it's too much to ask that e-readers get their money's worth.

1 comment:

katri skala said...

Hello. I really enjoyed reading the account of your favourite short stories of 2009. I live in the UK, where short stories are not widely published, and where good writing about them barely exists (let along good writing of them). I found it encouraging and refreshing to read such thoughtful and fluent comments, and have since sought out the stories you mention.

Now, a cheeky question. I have just started writing short stories, and had my first one published before Christmas here (London). Would you read it? It is set in New York (where I worked for a theatre in the 90s).

I'm not a loony. In fact, this is the first blog I've ever responded to.

Here's hoping.