If Paul Vidich, a former technology executive at Time Warner and AOL, is right, his new venture, Storyville, may lead to a revival of the short story. Launched at the end of 2010, Storyville is an iPhone/iPad app that offers readers a weekly short story for an inexpensive six-month subscription.
For $4.99, Storyville subscribers get a new short story each week for six months, stories culled from classic and newly published short story collections. Vidich, who worked for years at Time Warner, is credited with leading the negotiations with Apple and Steve Jobs to establish the iTunes store and its 99 cents price point for digital music. Now, Vidich, who writes short fiction himself, is out to do for the short story what digital downloads did for music.
Storyville pays publishers—Vidich said he has deals with about 20 publishers—to recirculate short stories from published collections. Storyville publishes them through the mobile app, providing exposure for the book collections and offering publishers a new marketing vehicle. (He's also publishing each of the three stories nominated for this year's Story Prize in the weeks leading to the March 2 prize ceremony.)
So far Storyville has released contemporary stories by Kate Berheimer and Edwidge Danticat ("Claire of the Sea Light"), and classic ones by Kafka and Jack London. Vidich said he hopes to have 2,000 subscribers by the end of 2011.
Storyville, Vidich said, is out to recreate the publishing climate that made the short story popular beginning in the 19th century when mass market consumer magazines like the Saturday Evening Post published short stories and served as marketing for collections. While those magazines are long gone, Vidich believes mobile Web devices may replace them. "Most novelists still write short stories," Vidich said, "but they get no marketing support. Publishers don't know what to do with short story collections and have low expectations for sales."
Vidich said his research found about three million people who are avid short story readers, but "Readers need to get stories frequently, and literary magazines and quarterlies don't publish often enough." Mobile devices like the iPhone and the iPad, said Vidich, "are a new opportunity to satisfy consumer reading and for readers to share conversations about books"; the app includes links to Twitter and Facebook. The Storyville app could also be used to draw attention to kids' stories, YA, and African-American literature.
"My focus is to bring great contemporary literature to a new generation of literary 20 and 30 year olds to whom words matter," Vidich said. "Short stories are transporting; they're the perfect lifestyle match for mobile reading."