Short and punchy - the brave new world of e-books
Canadian journalist Patrick Graham's The Man Who Went to War: A Reporter's Memoir from Libya and the Arab Uprising is to be the first title of a new digital publishing program from Random House of Canada. The Canadian branch of one of the world's biggest publishing houses has established Hazlitt Originals to publish a line of digital books that will be shorter than traditional books and will be available much more quickly than non-fiction books tend to be in traditional format.
Patrick Graham had been away from war zones for 10 years when he went to Libya to cover the Arab Spring. (Jesse Blackwood)
The Man Who Went to War is 57 pages - almost a long magazine article - and comes just three months after Graham left the ground in the Middle East. Graham, a freelance writer who also penned the screenplay for Afghan Luke, gives an eyewitness account of what he saw in Libya and also reflects on how the Twitter age has changed war reporting. Like Finding Karla, the e-book by Paula Todd about her search for Karla Homolka, it is a ripped-from-the-headlines tale and will sell for just $2.99.
Not that there is any template for success or pricing in e-book publishing, according to Robert Wheaton, vice-president of Random House of Canada. Kindle Singles publishes a range of novella-length and short story-length fiction. Margaret Atwood is selling short stories as singles you can read on your lunch hour. U.S.-based Byliner has had a non-fiction hit with Jon Krakauer's Three Cups of Deceit about the dubious veracity of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea. But everyone in publishing, including big six publishers like Random House, is just trying things out to see what works.
Wheaton calls e-books such as The Man Who Went to War almost a return of long-form journalism (does anyone remember articles of 10,000 words or more?), but says Hazlitt Originals will not be exclusively non-fiction, nor confined to shorter books. "It's finding the forum and the scope that fits the story. In terms of fiction or non-fiction our point is freedom that writers might have - freedom in a commercial venue to write the length they need," he said.
To come on Hazlitt Originals - anti-foodie polemic You Aren't What You Eat by U.K. journalist Steven Poole, and Ivor Tossell's The Gift of Ford, about controversial Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
At the same time, Random House has also struck out to remake its digital image with a new website named for 19th century journalist and critic William Hazlitt. It is a digital magazine which will showcase writing by its authors - and other writers - on politics, music, the environment, art and pop culture as a way of trying to engage readers and define a community of ideas associated with the publishing house.
As the brave new world of e-book publishing develops, readers face a bewildering array of digital choices. I welcome the idea that Random House is staking out some smart territory, but I also remember that it's making a fortune by inflicting the risible 50 Shades of Grey on the world.
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