Eli Horowitz does not think of himself as someone who “fetishizes the book.” But he’s also seen what books become, in digital form, and has not always been impressed. A former managing editor and publisher at McSweeney’s, Horowitz describes much of what he has seen in the digital revolution in book publishing as “taking nice books and making them slightly uglier.” Hoping to do something more interesting, and attractive, than merely digitizing a print book for e-reading, Horowitz, with two partners, launched Ying Horowitz & Quinn, a kind of transmedia shop that, at its core, he said, is interested in “finding new ways to tell stories.” The company's first major project, The Silent History, a story that unfolds in segments through an app, will launch in October.
The Silent History is something that Horowitz cooked up with three friends: Russell Quinn (cofounder of the digital studio Spoiled Milk), Kevin Moffett (an author), and Matthew Derby (an author and game designer). The story—it follows an incident, happening in the near future, in which a generation of children are born with no capacity for language—was conceived by Horowitz, and then fleshed out with Moffett and Derby. The app is free and readers can download content at two different price points—a one volume sample is is $1.99 and the full version is $9.99. The paid downloads will deliver what Horowitz called “oral histories” about the phenomenon, delivering segments of the story on an unfolding basis. The story is divided into six volumes, Horowitz explained, and each volume has 20 installments, which are between 1,000 and 1,500 words.
The delivery of the text is a bit complex, as the installments are released so as to build reader anticipation. The first 20 installments appear every weekday, for a month and, Horowitz said, are structured so that each week readers are getting a story with its own arc. With 120 “testimonials” in full—the $9.99 price will give you content delivered over the course of a year—the story is intended to mirror that of a dramatic TV show, which draws viewers in with stand-alone episodes week to week, as it builds to a longer story line unfolding over the course of a full season. At the end of every volume, for example, the installments of The Silent History will stop for a month while, Horowitz said, “readers can catch up or join” the tale.
The other component to The Silent History is called field reports. Readers drawn into the narrative can access—with their iPhone or iPad (the only two devices the app will be available on)—information about incidents related to the phenomenon at the center of the story. The field reports are all tied to the geographic region where the reader is located, and can only be accessed by those in that region, as detected by the GPS. The field reports will be spread out over the globe, and Horowitz estimated that, by the time the story launches, there will be about 200. “The field reports provide a kind of walking tour in which the fictional world is mapped onto the physical world,” Horowitz said.
While Horowitz was loathe to call the company a transmedia firm, projects like The Silent History will be Ying Horowitz & Quinn’s main focus. There are other projects on their slate, as well. The three already produce, for example, with chef/restaurateur David Chang, the quarterly food magazine Lucky Peach. Another project in the works is a collaboration with Nick Hornby and Scott Snibbe (a media artist and app developer who created the interactive app that accompanied Bjork’s 2011 album, Biophilia) that Horowitz said will “combine music and storytelling.”
While Horowitz would not rule out working with publishers on creating apps, his assumption is that the kind of projects ideal for Ying Horowitz & Quinn would come out of collaborations directly with authors. Horowitz thinks interactive stories need to come out of an environment where creators are willing to spend money and take risks. Those things, he assumes, are not the hallmarks of corporate publishing houses. They are, however, attributes of certain storytellers. And Horowitz, along with his partners, would like to give those writers chances to tell their stories in new ways. “[Writers] have been left out of the digital revolution,” Horowitz mused. “Their role has been to shut up and not worry about their books getting uglier.”