Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

A Presentation by Longform.org

BY LAUREN

 

Don Bialstosky: Good afternoon and welcome. I don’t think I know everybody. I’m Don Bialostosky, chair of the English Department here, and I’m really pleased to have a chance to introduce to you briefly the editors of Longform.org, a very interesting site that archives long form journalism, serious journalism, of about the last 150 years, I think. But at least going back to 1869 is the earliest document that’s now up there. It’s an exciting site with interesting things to read and interesting ways to read them, and it’s a site that we are in the process of collaborating with here in the English Department, DM@P and the Writing Program are sponsoring this talk, and both [are] in conversation with our guests. And we have made a quick foray onto their site, in their 2011 best essays site, where the Writing Program already has a logo and a link. And that link is leading people to connect to us that we didn’t have before. I’m introducing you to Max Linsky and Aaron Lammer, who are not just the editors but the inventors and technical creators of this site.

Aaron Lammer: Sole employees.

DB: And the total employees. And they will give us an overview and a sense of what’s going on with it, and I think you’ll find it as exciting as several of us did this morning when we had a chance to begin the conversation. So please welcome Max and Aaron.

[Applause]

Max Linsky: It’s really nice to be here. Aaron and I met in college, and have not been back to that college since we left that college, and it’s been nice to be at a college, and we’ve basically spent the last 24 hours talking about how badly we screwed up college. So it’s really nice to be here and we have quite a bit to talk about. I think that we’ll do a good deal of talking about the site and what’s happened to it so far, and where it’s headed. I think to understand how it started, it’s important to think about two things. So, there’s a lot of different things we can talk about. We can talk about the dying magazine industry, and we could talk about the lack of business models for long form journalism. What we’re going to talk about is readers, and the way that we’ve always looked at this problem is from the vantage point of readers, not from publishers and not from writers, but from readers, from the audience. And every decision that we’ve made around the site, and every decision that we’ve made about the other projects that we’ve waded into, the focus has always been on: what do readers want? How are readers going to access what we’re doing, and what are they going to want going forward? So that’s a way to think about the project thus far. And what it came out of was a couple of really sad years for long form journalism in the early part of the last decade. So, I’ve been a journalist since 2003 and I spent a couple of years as the online editor for a group of newspapers, all weeklies like the CityPaper in Pittsburgh, that were known for doing amazing long form journalism. And my title was “Online Editor,” but I was really more of a therapist. And what I was doing was traveling around and helping editors cope with their post-traumatic stress about the death of long form journalism. So, people had decided that print was dying, and no one was going to read long form stories digitally, there was no money to be made, and therefore things were gonna die. So I really did—I spent about two years traveling around the country, trying to give people back massages and tell them everything was gonna be okay. And they were right about some of this. It was not always great to read long form digitally.

AL: Yeah. I don’t come from nearly as much of a journalism background as Max. I’ve been a book editor, I’ve been a ghostwriter, I’ve done a lot of things, and now I’m mostly involved with web development. But I think it’s valuable for people who are students here—I know that you’re being taught to write, but the way that most people actually take in text is as a reader—to think about the experience of reading today, because you are all writing to be read, and probably not in a print book. Unfortunately, if that was your ambition. So when we look at long form journalism, the first I want to sort of look at is how it’s presented on the web. This is a New York Times Magazine story from 1996. It almost could be a spam Viagra ad page. [Laughter] Like it’s just a little bit of text crammed in the middle that separates it from being that. And when we look at what’s happened between 1996 and today—this is from a couple weeks ago—there’s an improvement, but there’s still a very, very ad-based problem with it. So when we look at this story, the first thing we have to say is, are people gonna read it? Not because of its quality of journalism, or its importance to social justice; we have to say, are they gonna do it? And when we look at something like this—this is the pagination for a New York Times Magazine story—it’s nine pages it’s spread across. If you are writing a piece like this—say, a ten-thousand word piece—I would ask you to gamble for someone who started on page one, whether they would make it to page nine. And if you gambled that more than fifty percent of people would make it, you would be wrong. Now, to put that into perspective, that’s like saying you run a movie theatre and more than fifty percent of the audience walks out of every movie. It’s a major problem to digest any of these stories. People know that we’re moving away from print and we’re moving into a digital format, but they’re creating experiences that people simply don’t use. And when we look at: is long form journalism dying, is it vibrant, we have to look at why it would be dying and why it would be vibrant. And so much of that comes down to the actual experience of reading a story. So when we decided to start this up, a lot of people are like, Oh, you guys are interested in experimental journalism? There’s nothing experimental about what we’re doing except for the way it’s delivered. We are trying to innovate in the system of delivery, not content.

ML: So, as we’re having all these conversations, and if anyone here follows journalism blogs and Romanesko and those kinds of things, there’s a national conversation about how this was dying, and this form was falling off. And those were basically the reasons. So editors and writers were looking at how this stuff was presented online—nine paginated pages, you know, Viagra ads every which way—and decided that it was gonna die. And they were right about a couple of things, right? So print is dying. Every print number is bad pretty much, except for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and that’s a magazine that’s funded with Bloomberg money. So, [for] everybody else, print is dying. That is not changing. And the content is still really expensive to make. But what didn’t change was the stories. So that story from 1996—that Darcy Frey story that Aaron showed—is just as amazing today as it was when it was posted when it was first written. And the journalism never changed. The stories never changed. So if there was an audience in 1996, or 1986, or 1976, for long form journalism, there were still people who wanted to read the stories. The issue was with, again, how they were delivered. And I think that that point was the one that the publishing industry really failed to see. They weren’t looking at their readers; they were thinking about themselves.

AL: And so I think, continuing with the sort of doom talk circa 2005, we started to see print declining and nothing really replacing it in terms of the readership. You know, certain websites did well, some websites did not do well, but we still didn’t see a lot of people finishing those stories. So there was sort of a period where things could have gone really badly, but sort of a wrinkle happened, that I think totally changed this equation. And the wrinkle was people getting readers in their pockets. And I don’t think this is gonna blow anyone’s mind, you know—in this room probably 80% of the people here could read a book with what they have on them right now. So you see in 2007 the first Kindle is introduced. Ditto the iPhone. In the last couple years, we have the iPad being introduced, and now the Kindle Fire, which is a fancier Kindle. So what happened when everybody got a reader in their pocket, or under their Christmas tree, is we opened up a new group of readers in America. Which is what any writer or publisher needs, is people to read their stuff. I doubt that most people here have read—who has read anything on their phone? [Pause.] Ok, more than half. Ok, How many people have read an entire novel on their phone? [Pause.] One or two. Ok. So what that says to me is that everyone has a reader in their pocket, but most people are not attempting Moby Dick on that reader. So when we look at the possibilities of that form, the reader form, we start thinking about, what would be great in that context? What works on the phone? And both of us bought iPhones when they first came out, and I don’t mean to be, like, an Apple salesman here [laughter], but this stuff changed the world. So we started using an app called Instapaper. Anyone here familiar with Instapaper? Yeah. So what Instapaper does is it takes a web page, and it strips out all the formatting, and all of the sidebars and the ads, and it basically takes all the text and transfers that into the Cloud, or into the Instapaper servers, where you can pick it up on your phone, you can pick it up on your iPad now, you can send it to your Kindle at a certain point. So, suddenly, all of these long stories that had lived on the web—with no good way to read them on the web—now had a way to be read. Literally, the old, best way to read a long form story that was on the Internet was to print it out. And a lot of people did print it out. Like, Max has a…

ML: I still have it in my office, actually, this thick manila folder of all the stories that I printed out for plane flights and things like that. I mean, I think, just one more point on reading in a web browser, the pagination is ridiculous, but the other part of it is, magazine stories—narrative journalism—is a luxury. It’s something you read on the weekends and before bed. It’s not something that you read at work. And when your only option was reading a story in a web browser, there were two really important things that you couldn’t do. One was, you couldn’t take it away from your desk. And the other was that it didn’t save your place, alright? So I read a lot of long form journalism. I read very little of it in one sitting, right? You come back to this stuff. A 10,000-word story takes a second to get through, and you couldn’t save your place on a web browser. So those are two other things that made reading this particular kind of journalism—this particular kind of writing—on a web browser really, deeply unpleasant.

AL: And I think the music industry is somewhat informative here, because the music industry got a digital player earlier than the reading industry. So if we look at the trajectory of the music industry, we see Napster comes out in 1999. 2001, the first iPod is released. 2003, a store is created to sell music to play on the iPod. 2007, Apple starts letting you do whatever you want on the iPod, releases the iPhone. And by 2008, iTunes became the largest music retailer in the world. Now, the interesting thing about this is, Napster existed, mp3s existed; we didn’t have the same sort of ubiquitous relationship with digital music until we had figured out how to play it back. And I think that’s very instructive for reading. An mp3 is not different than an LP in terms of its content. It’s radically different in the way it delivers that content. And when we look at reading, we don’t talk a lot about the delivery system. And I think that, as we start creating new ways to deliver the text, we’re gonna see the devices and the content are in a dialogue with each other. And we are trying to sort of play a middleman in that dialogue.

ML: To get back to the Instapaper thought before I cut Aaron off, we’ve got a story on a web browser…

AL: Okay.

ML: Go back to that New York Times thing…

AL: So we’re back on the Viagra page.

ML: So your options here are to read the story over nine pages while probably purchasing Viagra at your desk.

AL: Yep.

ML: And here’s what Instapaper allows you to do.

AL: So this is the same story on an iPhone: pretty minimalist, pretty luxurious. And actually, after they did that, people said, this is so great, I’d like to do this in the browser. So there’s a company called Readability that we also partner with that does a similar experience in the browser, where you click a—see that little red couch up there?—you click that, and it’ll transform any web page into this kind of an experience. So actually we took the mobile experience and pushed it back onto the web. So that sort of brings us…the point of the story we’ve reached right now: Max and I were just guys who were subway commuters who read a lot of long form journalism.

ML: Yeah.

AL: And that was up ‘til a couple of years ago.

ML: And I was spending time with people who were feeling pretty bad about the future of this stuff. And I think there was one other point before we get to, sort of, walking through Longform, that’s important. The guy who created Instapaper, which is now the—what?—third…

AL: Yeah, I think it’s…number four paid news application. So this is above newspapers; this is above…we’re talking about New York Times numbers here.

ML: The story of Instapaper is that it was one guy who lived in Westchester and commuted to the city. He was sitting at his desk, and he’d find stories on the web that he wanted to read, but he didn’t have the time, so he built himself this tool. He didn’t tell anyone about it for six months. He used it by himself. And then he told a few friends, and they thought it would be cool, and he put it in the app store. So you’ve got this huge industry trying to figure out how they’re gonna save themselves. And one guy, doing something for himself—one reader, doing something for himself—figured out a way to do it better than any of them.

AL: Yup. And, again, we’re coming back to the reader. He served the reader. How do we serve the reader?

ML: Yeah. So how do we serve the reader, Aaron?

AL: You start talking about that while I plug this computer in.

ML: So we were both using Instapaper quite a bit and reading a lot of stories and sharing a lot of stories between the two of us. And so we decided that we’d put up a site with some very, very simple goals. The first one was to make sure that we never got on the subway again in New York without something to read. And we figured if we had that problem, maybe there’d be a couple other people who did. So this is what we built. And we started it in early April 2010, and it’s been going strong since then. And we had a couple of very basic goals. So the first one was to keep what we were doing as simple as possible. So from the first day, we’ve posted four stories every day. The stories all have a couple things in common. One is that they’re on a single page, so we’d never link to a paginated source. One is that they’re available in full—as text—so we’d never link to a pdf. And we’ve never really gone beyond that four number. So we never wanted to overwhelm people with too much stuff every day. We know there’s only a few things that you’re gonna have time for, if you’re gonna have time for anything. And the third thing, and the thing that, you know, I think has been as integral to its success as anything else, is that we were really militant about posting things that were great. And we spent a lot of that time in the first couple weeks of the site fighting about what was a great story and I think we landed in a place where we’re pretty consistent on that front.

AL: So, to give you an idea of how people actually use this site, you come on here and you have front-page news stories. You can click through and load the web page, which is how a lot of people use it—they use it as a way to find cool stuff to read in their web browser—but the way that we use it and the way we see the future of how it’s used is with these buttons. So if I click this button here, like that, that story just got saved to Max’s Instapaper account. We also now support a service called “Read It Later,” which is on the Android phone, and we have recently added support for Readability which is on just about everything, and includes a button to send directly to Kindle. So we’ve tried to cover as many possible readers as you might have. In fact, you might have an iPhone and a Kindle, and want to send some stuff to your Kindle for a plane and your iPhone for a commute, and what have you. So all of those are read-later options on the site. But one thing that happened after we started doing this, a month in, we had a hundred stories, and we were like, we better keep finding more stories. When we crossed about a thousand stories, we realized that we were actually doing something different than what we had set out to do. So, we had set out to help people’s subway commutes be less boring. And what we found that we were doing was actually creating an archive of digital journalism. So up here you can see “Search.” Let’s do… in the house…Jeanne Marie…ok. Jeanne Marie has done very well on the site. We’re gonna pull up about one, two, three, four, five, six stories by Jeanne Marie. Someone give me a topic. Any topic. Something interesting that’s happened…

Audience Member: Newt Gingrich.

AL: Alright. Gingrich. So you are researching Newt Gingrich, or just interested, and we’ve got a November 1984 Mother Jones story on Newt Gingrich, and we’ve got a September 1995 Vanity Fair story on Newt Gingrich, which you can see we’ve just posted that has a pretty interesting line: “I just go on the air next time and I undermine everything.” That was in 1995.

ML: The woman who made the open marriage claim. So, there’s one point we might have skipped over, which was that idea that the stories never changed, that the stories were always as good as they had always been, was something that we believed in fully, and so from the first day we started the site, it was not just about posting new articles. It was about posting great new stuff and great classic stuff. Because the nature of this kind of writing is that it’s evergreen, and for years and years and years it had a shelf life of a week or a month on a newsstand and then it was gone. But the reality is that the vast majority of this kind of work has enduring value. It’s just as good to read today as it was ten years ago. And the other stuff, the more timely stuff, has a real chance to come back and be new. So the reason we’re here today is because when the Penn State scandal broke, I had a friend at GQ who told me that some woman named Jeanne Marie Laskas had written an incredible profile of Joe Paterno in 2007, and we emailed Jeanne Marie. It wasn’t on the GQ site, and we put it up and 20,000 people read that story. So, a big part of what we’ve been trying to do is surface these older stories, and then once we got to that number—once we got around 1,000 stories or 1,500 stories—now, all of a sudden, we’ve got 1,000 stories from before 2005. And there’s nothing else quite like that on the web.

AL: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s kind of incredible to consider that journalists—and a lot of people here are, I assume, thinking of becoming nonfiction writers—spend six months, nine months, on a story and that has a one- or two-week shelf life on a newsstand. It doesn’t really make sense. Most people who read this stuff aren’t reading it because they’re looking for up-to-the-minute news; they’re reading it ‘cause they think it’s interesting and informative and worthwhile. And those qualities don’t fade with time, for the most part. So I think that another interesting thing is, people are queuing stories and then leaving it in their queue for six months. There’s really a different relationship between time and publishing under this system. So…where are we going next?

ML: So, the site’s been up for about two years, and it’s used by a lot more people than we ever thought were gonna use it. So I think we underestimated the number of people who were addicted to their Instapapers. Last month, we were up around 350,000 uniques, which is a much larger number than I ever thought we were gonna hit, and it’s growing pretty steadily. So we’ve been working on the site pretty heavily for the last couple of years, and we started to think about how…

AL: Just before we get there, I think it’s—and maybe 350,000 uniques sound like a lot to you, it may sound like not a lot to you—but the interesting thing I can tell you is, when you look at the magazines that we work with…for The New Yorker, that’s a good number of people, but it’s not blowing anyone’s mind. For some of these other publications—you know, The Oregonian—pointing that many people at a story is actually a significant boost in traffic and visibility. And The Oregonian isn’t even a great example. I mean, we do stories from personal blogs, from very home-brewed little literary magazines, and that kind of stuff, so I think part of what’s happening is that we’re mixing and matching writers and publishers in a way that they haven’t been previously mixed and matched, and I think both sides—and primarily the reader—can really benefit from that overlap. If you’re coming for a New Yorker story and you find a story that you never would’ve found, that’s an incredible experience. If you are publishing your own stuff, email it to us. We look at everything. We have readers, and we find weird stuff all the time, and that stuff can be looked at, you know, in the same context as New Yorker stories. It’s a new kind of experience that wouldn’t have been possible before now, and it’s good.

Jeanne Marie Laskas: Before you go, can you share the old stuff?

AL: Yeah, sure. So, we have this page that we kinda need to update, called the archives. These are just sort of different ways to sort. You can sort by writer…here’s a list of every writer who’s ever been on here. And you can sort by decade, so if I click “pre-1960s,” this is “The True Story of Lady Byron’s Life,” September 1869, The Atlantic. That is a very old story that is of a lot of historical importance to the profession of journalism. But actually, the other ones, you want to talk a little bit?

ML: Yeah. The story at the top there is of note. So, part of what’s happened as the site has continued to grow and become a place that people really come to to look for suggestions on stuff to read and we start sending a good deal of people to these different articles, we started having lots of people coming to us and asking us to post their stuff. So sometimes that’s big, big magazines and sometimes it’s really interesting, tiny stuff. So the story of Holiday Magazine is, it was discontinued in the late 50s or early 60s—I can’t remember which one—and a guy named Josh Lieberman who writes for The Paris Review sent us an email last month. He’d been digging around in a library in his hometown, and he’d found these old issues of Holiday Magazine and started reading them, and they were amazing. They’re absolutely incredible. They’ve got all these big-name writers: Ray Bradbury writing about going to Disneyland with his kids, this amazing work. And it’s fantastic. So he took photos of the magazine in the library and sent us them, and said, Listen, if you are interested, I’ll type all these up. I’ll sit down and transcribe all of them so we can share them. So this story is about this… I highly recommend this story. It’s pretty incredible. It’s about trailer park culture in the early 50s across America. It’s a guy who spends three years driving around America in a trailer, writing about, like, the difference between a trailer park in Colorado and a trailer park in Florida. It’s fascinating! I don’t think this story’d been read in fifty years. Legitimately, I don’t think this story had been read in fifty years. And Josh typed it up—he built this beautiful site—and he’s gonna go through and, you know, type up their best stuff and send it to us and we’ll post it on the site.

AL: So, to recap, when I load this, and I go like this, a story an editor from The Paris Review found in his hometown library and emailed us about, typed up, and put on there just made it onto Max’s phone. That is the course that text just traveled. And right now I really think we’re in the infant stages of this. I mean, I think we don’t actually know what’s out there right now. We literally have no idea how deep this well is. There’s really a lot of stuff out there and you’d be surprised how little of it’s digitized. Even major magazines—Esquire—doesn’t have their pre-90s archive. And that’s another archive that has Norman Mailer, and Gay Talese, and these major iconic figures. Their writing is literally not available in a digital format. So, I mean, this is really just the start, I think

ML: Absolutely. And, you know, I think that the further we go with the project, the more likely it is that we’ll be publishing more and more of old stuff ourselves on the site. Which is something I’m really excited about.

AL: And, you know, in terms of any certain sense of legality or permissions, no one we’ve ever asked—something like that? James Jones, I’m guessing, is probably deceased if he was writing in the 1950s—but among living writers, whenever we’ve just sent an email and said, This isn’t online, we’ve tracked down a copy, can we put it up? People have been wildly enthusiastic. We’ve found no friction there at all. People are really excited to have their stuff read and be available, because they’ve dedicated years of their life to it and it’s disappeared.

ML: Yeah. That ties back to this idea of trying to focus on the reader. So it’s not just older stuff that we’ve posted that no one had a chance to read before, but we’ve also gotten a bunch of magazines who have given us links to stories that are behind paywalls on their sites. So if you go to thenewrepublic.com—tnr.com—and you want to click on a story that’s gonna say you have to subscribe to the magazine, but you come to Longform, they gave us a link that lets you read that story. Again, it’s like they’re trying to find a way to serve readers while keeping up their business model, and we’ve been quite focused from the start.

AL: This is Jeanne Marie’s daughter’s iPad. Tap Zoo is not on my iPad.

ML: I highly recommend it.

AL: That said, this is a cute dog. [Laughter] Ok…so…we’ve been doing the site for a year and a half, we think it’s great, but we found a little problem with it. Which is, if you don’t go and save a bunch of articles to read, then you don’t have them. You have to go on the internet, save articles, and go read them on your mobile device. And we’re designing for a mobile device, so we’re creating this ridiculous middleman that we don’t need. So, very quickly, we started thinking about ways that we could bring stuff directly to people on these devices, because we’ve always been designed around these devices. And the logical step, we felt like, was the iPad, because it’s the most—as someone who’s developing software—it was the most appealing to me. It was where we saw our audience going, and we saw it as a place where we could deliver the best experience. So we set out to make this iPad app. When did we start making this iPad app?

ML: We started making the iPad app a long time ago. The little, uh, subtext of this talk is that it’s hard to make an iPad app.

[Laughter]

AL: If you wanted to do journalism, do journalism. If you want to make a really good living, learn Objective-C. That would be my advice here.

ML: But there’s one other part of this idea, just before we get into it, is that this stuff is all really early. In Instapaper, sending to Kindles, all of this stuff is in really early days, and there’s a technological hurdle. They try to make it as easy as possible, but I’ve had, I’ve probably wasted, you know, four or five solid days of my life explaining it to people the last couple of years. It’s hard. And part of the idea behind this app was to take that experience, to take the experience of going to Longform, saving a story, and having it appear later so you could read it offline, and cutting out all of the steps. All you had to do was open the thing and it’d be sitting there for you.

AL: The primary experience of those Instapaper things is that… who knows what a bookmarklet is? Ok, that was…. Can I put that in the commercial for our app? [Laughter] So the main way you save stories with Instapaper is by installing a little bookmarklet, which you drag into your browser, and…. no one knows what you’re talking about. Instantly, you cut off ninety percent of the audience by using the word “bookmarklet.” So we wanted something that was for journalism fans, and their grandparents, and everyone. So we built this app. And when you look at these stories here, you might recognize them from what you just saw on the website. This is the most recent stories posted to Longform. So you get a feed of them here, and let’s pick one we want to read—“The Man Who Bought North Dakota”—

ML: Did anyone else know there was an oil boom on in North Dakota? I did not know that until this morning. Crazy!

AL: So, speaking of that, I’m gonna tap this story. And what’s happening is actually kind of interesting. I think we’re actually cutting off a little bit of the screen here…when you’ve spent months and months on the design of something, you demand that all pixels be visible. [Laughter] So what we just did is we loaded this New Yorker page. Which is nice. But if I go over here in the right-hand corner and tap into “read,” I’m gonna get this beautiful text-optimized view of the story. Now, not only is that, in my opinion, better than what we just shifted from here—which, again, not quite a Viagra ad, but a lot of stuff happening. The other quality that this page has is that it’s actually stored locally on the iPad. This—if we were on a plane—you could read this exactly the same way you’re reading it right now. And you can adjust the text, you can make it a little bigger, a little smaller, we can email it, post it to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr…all these qualities that we come to associate with iPad apps.

ML: Yeah, I mean, if you go back to the web page for a second…this is The New Yorker.  Pretty venerated magazine. Just looking above the fold here, you’ve got, eyeballing it, twenty different links that you can click. You can’t see any part of the story. This is how the internet works. The way that you get paid on the internet is by—you’ve already got them when they’ve gotten to this page—so you need to get them to click again to get them again.

AL: To go back to the movie analogy, this is as if you were seeing a movie and there were ads along the side, and people could choose those ads and then the movie would change to that movie. If you are Eric Konigsberg, who wrote this story, The New Yorker is choosing to let twenty or thirty links compete with your story. So one of the things that we really want to make sure about that app was, it’s for reading. It’s not interactive. There are not a lot of multimedia features to it. It’s for people who want to read. We have seen a lot of apps that service those other things I just talked about, and we didn’t find a lot that serviced reading. So this would have been the basic app we made, except we like to cause pain for ourselves. And we wanted to do something a little bit bigger, and to make a bigger place for this kind of reading. So if I tap here, I pull up a list of magazines. When someone sees something they like, call it out. Let’s do GQ because we’re here with Jeanne Marie. Ok, so this is GQ. This is a feed of articles from GQ, but…people use RSS here? Are you familiar with RSS? This is very different than what you might find in a GQ RSS feed. For the GQ RSS feed, I’m guessing there would be more bikinis, more short blog posts. Basically, all the stuff that magazines fill up their sites with to make money, to churn out content quickly, to bring people in, link bait, slide shows. There’s a reason why things like slide shows happen on the internet, and because a slide show is twenty web page views and a really long article is one web page view, you look at it like this.

ML: Go to the top of that page real quick. Go to the GQ homepage.

AL: Oh, from the home page? Okay. So, load GQ in here.

ML: Just for some context.

AL: There is the GQ…oh! And it freaked out.

ML: It’s freaking out because they’re trying to load a gigantic Mila Kunis ad.

AL: Yup. And the iPad is like, Pleeeaaase, stop! There we go. Okay.

ML: So, this is if you go to gq.com. Jeanne Marie has a new story, if you want to read it, you go to gq.com, this is what you get.

[Laughter]

AL: So, thankfully we’re not going to subject you to that, and we’re just going to flip over to our nice, relaxed, actually want-to-read reading view. So we’re improving the reading experience I hope, but we’re also filtering the content in a really interesting way. So what we do—I guess I’m gonna ruin the magic here—but we look at all the links that GQ publishes, and if they’re on nine pages, we have a script that joins them to a single page, and then I say, how many words are on that single page? And we set a threshold in our back end that analyzes those links and says yay or nay based on the word count. And the word count’s about 2,000 words. That’s what I consider a long form feature. So, basically, we just eliminated most of the clutter that GQ publishes, and left a very, very small fraction. Now, this isn’t for everyone. Some people are going to GQ for the bikini stuff. But if you’re not going for the bikini stuff, this is a better way to read it, in my opinion. And we also do work with those other time-shifting services, so you can shift to Readability, Instapaper, and Read It Later in it, and right now we’re starting with about twenty-five publications available in it, but we hope to go far bigger than that, and to really be a home for all the people who are publishing long form nonfiction, and maybe even fiction across the web.

ML: One other note that’s important is that a lot of the magazines have paywalls that everything’s put behind, or paywalls The New Yorker publishes three features every week and one of them will be available and two of them will be behind a paywall. All we’re doing here is posting stuff that’s freely available online. So, it’s the same general conceit as Longform, we’re only gonna link to things that people can actually read. We’re not going around anyone’s stuff; we’re not posting text elsewhere. This is all stuff that’s available online, and the idea of the app is to try and take the best writing that’s available on the web and get it off the web. The web is a bad place to read. These things are incredible places to read, but it’s really hard to make that shift. So the whole idea of the app is to make that shift for people. To make that shift for my mom, who I spent, like, four or five hours trying to explain how this stuff works, like every couple of weeks.

AL: Another thing that we’re doing is, in addition to magazines, we’re gonna service people who curate content. So if people ever go to Arts & Letters Daily, it’s one of the probably the oldest curator on the web. It’s been doing this since like 1998, just picking really interesting reading material. So by feeding in Arts & Letters Daily, instead of a website with links, we basically created this little reader, here, just like Longform, that has story picks. So if people have sites they go to for recommendations, we’re able to translate that into a digital reader that works completely offline. So if I go right now, and I’m gonna turn off, turn into airplane mode, right?  And then reboot the app, and load one of these stories, it’s waiting for me there anyway. And we just bypassed that web page. It knows whether we’re connected to the web, and responds accordingly. So that is our app.

ML: Yeah, so that took us awhile to build, and it just got approved by Apple this week. It’s not, like, live in the store yet, but it will be shortly.

AL: And one of our beta testers is here—thank you. [Laughs] We put out a call online, and people responded and have helped us work on it, and I hope she’s impressed because the version she got was a lot more rudimentary than this.

ML: We have a whole bunch more on here, like the future of journalism and stuff, but it might be a good time to open it up to questions ‘cause we just talked…

AL: We’re interested in what people here are interested in with this stuff, and where your interests overlap with this stuff, questions, comments, whatever. And we’d also like to thank Jeanne Marie for bringing us here.

ML: Very much.

JML: And Jamie.

AL: And Jamie.

JML: Thank you, Jamie.

ML: Thanks, Jamie.

AL: Come on.  There’s got to be a question. Right there.

AUD: Where do you guys find most of your stories? Because I find that the difficulty in online long form stories is, I can go to the Tampa Bay Times and I see a headline, but I don’t know if it’s long form. So how do you guys…

ML: Tampa Bay Times. They’re so happy that you’re using that name already! [Laughter] You just made someone in marketing there so happy. We’ve gotten pretty good at it. The short answer… there’s not good ways to do it now. So there’s a couple of different things. One is that we have a place on the site where you can submit a link, suggest an article, and we get dozens of those every day, including from writers and publications themselves, submitting their own stuff. And the other is that both of us have become pretty maniacal users of these websites. So I know where GQ stashes its long form stuff, even if GQ doesn’t really know, which happened in a conversation last week where I was talking to someone from GQ and they didn’t know where their stories were and I did. But the answer is that people don’t do that very well. And I think part of the reason that people don’t do that very well is that idea that we were talking about at the beginning. I think in the early part of the 2000s, editors and web designers gave up on the idea that people were gonna read this stuff. And so there wasn’t—when they were designing their websites, when they were thinking about how they were gonna display their stuff—they assumed that no one was gonna read it. So it gets funneled into these weird, dark corners of their websites, ‘cause the website is built to assume you’re not gonna read it.

AL: I think, I mean, another thing that we do is we push out all of these articles that we’re recommending through tons of streams. We do it on Twitter, we do RSS, Facebook, Tumblr, so generally people—when we’ve put out a story of theirs—they see it, and they’re generally happy about it, and we get emails from editors, and then we say, Hey, don’t email us every single story you publish; when you publish a great long form feature, let us know. So we’ve been able to cultivate relationships that take some of the finding out. And I hope that the app just furthers that, which is that you’ll be able to get a feed from The Tampa Bay Times, and it’ll only have their long form features in it.

ML: It’s interesting that you bring up The Tampa Bay Times, because they have this incredible, rich history of feature writing, Pulitzer-winning stories, Tom French and Lane DeGregory and all these incredible people. And Tom French wrote this incredible story called “Angels and Demons” in, like, the mid-90s. It was, like, a 19-part thing. He worked on it for two years—all he thought about. It legitimately might be the ugliest web page in the history of web pages. It’s spread around, like, fifty pages; it’s like…it is the Viagra ad to the nth degree, and one of our editors—not Aaron or I, one of the other editors who work on the site—emailed someone at The Tampa Bay Times yesterday, and they’re gonna re-do the entire story and put it all on a single page, and just make it text so we can link to it. So that’s starting to happen a bunch too, is that we’re able to talk to folks and get them to put that stuff on nicer pages.

AUD: I know you’re dealing with long form journalism, but it seems to me like poetry and other mediums that are kind of dependent on space configurations really get compromised in transitioning to media. And I was wondering if you have any ideas on how, you know, things like that can survive.

AL: Um, survive might be a hard question. How they can adapt? I mean, one way to think about that is it’s a form of control that is lost. And you know it’s lost, so you’re designing around it being lost, just like a web designer designs around multiple screen sizes. That isn’t, maybe, an art response to that, and maybe that’s a cold, hard response, but I think that you know there are variables around the way that things are presented. You know that you don’t know what typeface you’ll get in an anthology, so you don’t make typeface a major part of what you’re doing. And if you do want to make it a major part, then you print yourself. And that’s the other amazing thing: all these tools that we’ve used to make all this stuff? They’re all pretty much free. Our website is a WordPress installation. Anyone could go and recreate the site tomorrow. You know, this app was a big endeavor, but we think that people who are involved in poetry and fiction need to seize the reins and create those environments where their stuff can be treated the way that they want it to.

ML: Yeah, I think—this is a lengthy analogy, but I’ll go make it anyway—I think there’s a question…. I think that the magazines have arrived at this thing, as we were talking about this earlier, there’s not a lot of editors left in America who are trying to talk themselves out of the Internet, being a thing, right? People are kinda giving themselves over to it. What we keep encountering are people who are just really eager to have folks read their stuff. And there’s this amazing Louis C.K. bit where he goes to the doctor, and he’s got, like, a bum ankle, and he goes to the doctor and he’s, like, My ankle really hurts, and the doctor is like, Yeah, you’re 40. You have shitty ankle now. It’s that thing you have. And he’s like, Well, what can I do? And he’s like, You can take a lot of Aleve. You can take, like, a dozen Aleve a day. And he’s like, Isn’t that gonna screw up my intestines? And he’s like, Yeah. Well, that’s what you gotta decide. Like do you want shitty intestines or shitty ankle? [Laughter] And I think part of the question is, do you want people to read this stuff or not? And if you want people to read the stuff, then maybe it’s not gonna be in the exact format that you want. And I think that the thing the magazines have started to do is say, we want people to read it. That’s, like, the number one priority, like, I’ll take intestinal problems. I want people to read the stuff. And I think that’s something that hasn’t happened as much with academic journals, hasn’t happened as much with poetry and fiction, and I think it’s a hurdle that you gotta get over if you want people to read it. ‘Cause people… that’s what these tools are about, is about giving people the ability to read things however they want and wherever they want. I mean, our app, right? You can change the fonts. So who cares what font you decided to put it in? I’ll put it in whatever font I want to.

AL: And I think that there’s a lot of things that are like that. We actually… it was interesting…we work with this company, Readability, who you saw up there, and the guy who made Readability was at a thing, and someone raised their hand, and they’re like, Yeah, I’m a designer. It kinda seems like you’re putting designers out of business by doing this. You’re removing the art of web design by stripping the pages like this. And I’m gonna totally fuck up his response, but his response was, basically, if you’re really interested in design, this is a design choice. This is design. I am going for the best design here, and let people judge it how they will. Design is not a job that’s protected by the union. It’s a dialogue between the reader and the writer, and we should be open to totally reinterpreting it right now. It does not seem like the website, as is, is the end-all for design for reading.

ML: So, best of luck.

[Laughter]

AL: I saw some back there.

AUD: You mentioned that you were interested in the future of journalism, and then you said something about, if you really want a job then learn Objective-C. [Laughter] I mean, from some of what I know about the future of journalism, these things may be connected. I wonder if you could just say a few…

AL: Or learn both. That would be great also. I mean that quite sincerely. I don’t necessarily mean “Learn Objective-C.” It will murder you. [Laughter] But I do think learning to hack a basic WordPress installation, if you’re involved in publishing text, is a no-brainer. If you want to start a magazine with people in this room, you could do it very simply. I knew no web design at all four years ago. So I do think that those are tools that are very valuable to people who want to be involved in publishing their own stuff and creating publishing communities and that kind of stuff, and there’s a lot on the web. I really recommend learning WordPress because WordPress is the most widely used content management system in the world right now, which means that there are people who have had every problem that you could possibly have with it. And if you are open with your frustration with Google, you can join the knowledge base of every other journalist who tried to make a website.

ML: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s also another element of that, which is that even if your ultimate ambition is not to just put up a WordPress but to get a job doing journalism, those jobs are few and far between, and they’re going to people who know how to put up WordPresses. I think, you know, we were talking about it at lunch, but that holistic approach to this stuff—understanding how to use social media to get out a story, understanding what people are talking about when they’re talking about code, knowing how to fix something yourself. If you know how to fix something yourself in a newsroom right now, you are way ahead of the game. So I think that’s part of what that job entails now. I mean, I think it’s basically a requirement.

AUD: So, for example, in my class, my students are having to do WordPress. But, at the end of the semester, you know, if I want their writing to come and mean more, and I suggest, you know, go submit your link—to your long form journalism story that you’ve done on WordPress in a blog—into Longform, what are the odds? I mean, you said you have twelve submissions a day, right?

AL: How good is the story?

AUD: Well, they’re students, so…

AL: Could be great, right? I mean…

ML: Yeah, you know, we take a lot of pride in not paying a lot of attention to the publication, and trying to focus on the story. We’re also, you know, some jerks, and don’t want to suggest anything that we don’t think is really great. But I think easiest version of the site is just to post the big features from GQ and The New Yorker and New York Magazine every week and call it a day. The thing that people come to the site for is because they know that stuff will be there and they know they’re gonna find something they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. So who knows what the odds are. If I love reading it, if we love reading it, I’m sure it’ll be on the site.

AL: A lot of times, we don’t really know where writers are in their career. One of the weird effects of Instapapering things is you strip away the context in which it’s published. So I just know, if a student sends in their thing, what’s gonna happen is I’m going to save it into my Instapaper queue, or one of our editors will, and I’m gonna read it just as text. That is a huge leveling of the playing field right there. And we’ve found all sorts of stuff. I mean, I’ll say this: I think there’s never been less distance between a student self-publishing and someone publishing in The New Yorker. We’ve actually seen people who were publishing, you know, there’s a whole new sort of new style of publication that’s happening now, you know, like The Awl and all sorts of publications like that don’t pay a lot of money, have a real variety in what they publish, really are just, they’re experimental in a certain way. And I know people who have jumped from doing free pieces to The Awl to doing GQ and Esquire pieces in under a year. What are the odds of that happening? Probably not more than fifty percent, but I know people it’s happened to who are in their early twenties, who…one break-out story can do that for you. And so, what I would say is, the first thing is, submit your work, and then submit your work to forty other places also, if you think it’s good. And I think that there are a lot of ways to break through there.

ML: It’s more of a meritocracy, I think, right now than it’s ever been. And I think, also, that the larger magazines are really desperate to find people who can hack a WordPress and who can push a story out on Twitter. They’re looking for those younger writers who are fluent in that stuff. And they’re hiring.

AUD: A legal question. Of course, when GQ publishes a piece, they have…. If you were to accept a piece by someone as the first publisher, what kinds of legal responsibility does the writer sign off on.  And the second one question is, earlier you talked about finding a piece in an old magazine and type it and you get permission from the writer, but you mentioned James Jones also. And maybe I didn’t understand what you were saying. Isn’t it the life of the writer plus seventy-five years? I mean, his heirs…

AL: They, I mean, they could come…not actually after us…we didn’t put up that story, so we do encourage people to…

AUD: Well, the James Jones…

AL: James Jones was a guy we met, and we said put this up and…

AUD: But if you found an old piece…

AL: Sure, it’s possible we would do…

AUD: Would you approach the James Jones estate to get permission, or would you hope they’re not gonna…

ML: We would approach the estate of James Jones. [Laughter] We are pretty consistent about… if we can find the writer, we’d much rather ask. Oftentimes the writer isn’t the only ones who have the stories. I think that, right now, we are not a very attractive sue-ee, you know? Like, you could have my iPad, I guess. [Laughter] So, we’re not super concerned about that stuff right now. Many lawyer friends of ours have tried to have talks with us, and we haven’t worried about it very much is really the honest answer. But I do think that, as the site gets bigger, it’s something to think about, and it’s not something I’m worried about at all. No one’s ever said no.

AL: I think, well, we can also take stuff down, which is the first thing that happens, legally, is… stop it. And we’re very happy to “stop it.” So we always go forward with, let’s do this for the readers, let’s not worry a ton about the legality, and if there’s a problem, we’re gonna hear about it. And maybe as we get bigger we’ll be hearing more about problems. The most common thing that happens, when we publish, like, an external page like that, and I think this happened with GQ and Jeanne Marie’s piece, is then the publication puts the page online and asks us to switch the link. So we put it online, and they take the text, put it on their own CMS, everyone’s happy—a bunch of people look at it. So I’m hoping that the goodwill just keeps going. But it’s one of the things that’s—we were talking about this a bunch with academic publishing. It’s a real wrench in knowledge and progress, worrying about some of the copyrights on older stuff. And I certainly take a more Internet thing, that if you are not doing malice with it and you are not profiteering with it, you oughta let people read stuff.

ML: The other thing, I think, is true is what Aaron is saying about “stop it” is right. None of it is something we’re gonna fight to the death for. Like, we’re not hurting for stories. And, you know, at this point the site is large enough that, you know, if any of these magazines came to us and said, take down all of the links to our stuff, we’d do it. It wouldn’t change the site.

AUD: Where is your funding?

AL: Our wallets.

ML: I’d sell my iPad.

AL: We’re not funded. We do this ourselves. We’ve been doing it full-time for about a year.

AUD: You said it’s free. Who pays you guys?

AL: We don’t take a salary. At this point, this is something we’ve invested in ourselves. We do have ads on the site, I don’t know if you saw them. NPR, so we make a little money on that, and we have a few consulting things related to this, people who pay us monthly to consult on similar products, and we’ve put a lot of our own money into it. And we think that there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. But we’ve talked to venture capitalists about it, and we’ve talked to people who would want it to be something different and put money behind it, and we’re pretty committed to doing it like this.

ML: I mean, I think we’re really trying to think of it as a small business and, you know, the last year of our lives have been pretty hustle-y. We’ve been working a lot, and running around a lot, and trying to find ways to pay rent and stuff, but, you know, we’re both really excited about what we’re doing, so…

AL: And the app’s going to be $4.99 also, and please buy it if you have an iPad.

AUD: Can you talk more about your collaboration with Pitt for this?

AL: Sure. Well, we’ve talked to Jeanne Marie. We were looking for a sponsor for our “best of year” thing and they were really generous in sponsoring us, and said, Why don’t you guys come talk down here, and why don’t these different departments…the digital department, the English department…that there was interest here on a variety of levels. So we came down here and we’ve talked to different people, and we’re talking about some future projects that we could all do, and we’ve wanted to have a greater relationship with academia than we’ve previously had, and students and that kind of stuff. So I don’t know exactly how it’s gonna play out, but hopefully we’ll be back and we’ll be talking to people and stuff, so… is that right? [Interns are] a possibility. And we’re very open, also, to people working on this project, so if you think, wow, I could really contribute to this project, everyone who worked with us on this project was someone who started as a fan of the project and started emailing us and we’ve started talking to them, and then we sort of brought them into the project. So that’s how we grow, basically.

AUD: So what’s your next step?

ML: In, like, life?

AUD: I just mean, like, this presentation’s just a shorter one that you’re doing, but what are you yourself doing? What is your next goal?

ML: Our whole focus is on this iPad app, really. We’ve been working on it for a long time, and it’s gonna go into the store and I think that, you know, selling it is gonna be nice but it’s an experiment, you know? We’re just really interested to see if readers want to use it, and how other people feel about it. So I think that the next chunk of time is gonna be about focusing on that and continuing to kind of grow the site.

AL: And from my perspective, since I’m totally obsessed with this iPad app, we’re gonna use the money we generate from selling this to make an iPhone version, hopefully an Android version, and then we have a lot of really, really cool ideas for things you can do in the app that just aren’t in it yet. But, like, geolocation is built into the iPad, so if you open this app in London, you’ll be offered journalism sources from London, or India. So I think the app is, like, if we can get enough people using the app in a central place, there’s just all kinds of different ways that we can feed them really interesting stuff, and customize the app for different people around the world. People have asked us why we don’t do fiction—it’s because we don’t read a lot of short fiction. So we don’t have any way to curate it. But adding in other editors to edit topical feeds, you know, instead of just a few science stories on Longform: Longform Science, edited by people who really know and read science. I think that there’s a lot of ways that we can expand what we’re doing and replicate some of the things we’ve learned for different things. Narrative long form journalism is one thing, but I think that a lot of these ideas can be pushed out in different ways.

ML: I think in a more, like, macro sense, we both really believe this is a golden age for readers and for reading. I think readers have never had it better than they do right now, and I think it’s only gonna get better. And so we just want to keep finding ways that we can find great stuff and deliver it to readers. I mean, I think that mission can take a bunch of different forms, but that’s the central idea. I think there’s gonna be an opening there for awhile.

JML: Could you just talk a little bit, for the folks who are, you know, teachers in the room, the way you were explaining an anthology that someone might make for a class, and the Instapaper, like all that.

AL: This is an idea that I had a couple years ago that, then, I couldn’t do because I couldn’t pay for it and I didn’t know how to make it myself. But now we’ve got a partner we’re building with. And I don’t know what it’s actually gonna be called, but right now we’re calling it Mixbooks—as in, mix tapes for books. So the idea is that you can input a series of links onto a web page, a series of articles. So if you’re taking a course in nonfiction, the reader is twelve articles, the professor would put in twelve of those links and mix them—roll them into a mix tape—and they would be put onto a permalink page with buttons to send them to your Kindle, send them to your iPad. So it’s basically a custom reader for anything that’s on the web, that is for students but also for other students from different colleges could then go and use that as a resource. So you could actually find out what they’re reading in a different MFA nonfiction program. I mean, I think it could be used for a lot of things, actually. Fiction, fan fiction, whatever kinds of things people are reading on the web, I think people would be interested in making, sort of, custom mix tapes based on it. And we hope that it’ll allow people a new way to interact with our content, to say, these are my favorite stories, like, it’s my dad’s birthday and I’m sending him a mix tape of reading for his Kindle. That kind of application. So that’s sort of something we’re beta-ing right now, and it’s not done, but we’re pretty excited about it.

ML: Yeah, and part of the reason we’re excited about it is ‘cause we’ve seen Longform show up on… you know… syllabi?

AL: Syllabi.

ML: All over the country. Yeah, we look at the site analytics, and you’ll see these links as…it’s all kinds of schools. High schools, universities, and it’ll just be a bullet point on the syllabus: go to this website, pick any story, and read it. And I think Mixbooks will have a really nice application with that too.

AL: Anyone else?

AUD: You talked a little bit earlier about the gains and losses of the formatting changes that Longform introduces and I guess the thing that strikes me is that, on the crappy New Yorker page, I’m reading the story but also finding other stuff, and it’s kind of like a means of discovery, but it’s distracting too and I don’t finish a story. But I’m wondering, what’s your sense of, kind of, what replaces the links as a means of discovery in the Longform? Is it just that Longform itself is bringing people to things that they wouldn’t ordinarily find? Or do you have a sense that, in reading a story, someone is then going to go read something by that same author or a similar topic? I don’t know if you have any actual data, but do you have a sense?

ML: We’ve played around with a bunch of stuff on the site, with “If you liked that story, you might like these stories…” and it’s technically really possible. But we’ve tried to be really focused about what we’re doing, and I think that the way that we feel about it is that there’s a bunch of people who are solving that problem. There’s a bunch of people who are trying to figure out how to get you to go to the next thing. And there’s just a great line from a BusinessWeek story last year, and the line was that “The greatest minds of my generation are figuring out how to get people to click on ads.” A fantastic line, and also true. And, so, I think what we want to do is create an experience that’s a little set off from that, and the rest of the Internet can figure out that problem. I think our general feeling is that, if you like something that you’ve read, what we want is for you to feel like you can come back to the site and find something else you’ll like. And, you know, it also is the case that there’s a couple of other sites that are similar to Longform and they push that idea hard, and I think this kind of writing and this kind of storytelling doesn’t quite fit with that. So it’s like, if you read a story about a gang murder in Mexico, you probably don’t want to just read another story about a gang murder in Mexico. In fact, you probably don’t want to read about that for a long time.

[Laughter]

AL: There’s a funny story about that. Someone made an app called “Zite” that recommends stories like that—it takes topics—and we pulled up a story about someone being mauled by a dog, and it was like, More stories about dogs? [Laughter] You know, there is a dumbness to that on the web.

ML: It’s easy to do badly and really hard to do well, and we don’t have a lot of time.

AL: But we got into links as footnotes. One of the choices we made in the app is, when you’re in that reading mode, there are no links. Like you can’t… where there used to be a link, we’re shutting off the link. And we wanted to do that ‘cause we don’t want people to click on links with an app, because then you have to make a web browser within your app and it’s really ugly and crappy. But there’s this cool feature that Readability built for us that will probably be in a future build, where you can tab all of the links that are in the story as footnotes at the bottom of the story, so you don’t see any links and then when you reach the bottom, you get a list of articles with links, so that’s actually a really cool way to read it. You finish, and then consider what you’re doing at the end. We need to get that that in there. Forgot about that.

ML: The only other idea on that front is that our mission is to serve readers, but we do want to help magazines, and I think that one way we can be helpful to magazines is by sending them traffic, and then putting the onus on them to keep people on their site and move them to another story. And we’ve done some work with magazines where they’ve designed, kind of, specific pages for what we’re linking to, and my advice is always, link to your next best story.

AUD: You say that you publish web-based articles as well as those that appear in print. And I know that multimedia storytelling is becoming the new frontier in the web journalism world. So are you able to accommodate multimedia aspects to long form journalism, or is that something that’s coming in the future, or something you’re against?

AL: That is such a hard question. This is what we talked about at dinner last night, all last night. I think that there’s definitely a place for multimedia journalism. I like multimedia journalism the best when it starts as multimedia journalism, and it’s not, like, DVD bonus features. Like, hey, we took a video, let’s put it on the website! Yeah! So I think a lot of the stuff that’s published now isn’t true multimedia journalism; it’s text plus bonuses. And I have no problem clipping out bonuses, ‘cause I think they’re put in as an afterthought. There are people who are doing really interesting work with multimedia journalism, and as we sort of talked about with poetry, they’re creating the format to make that work within it. So, we’re friends with these guys who do this magazine called The Atavist that’s for the iPad, and that’s what they are. They’re a whole platform for multimedia stories, and they only have multimedia stories, and they built all the tools necessary to use them that way. And that’s where I see the future of that stuff going, is text-only and multimedia-only, and less, sort of, middle gray area.

ML: Yeah, I think, to be honest, we’d be really hesitant to post something where we knew we were clipping out something that mattered, you know? In the system, we don’t decide what gets clipped out and what doesn’t, but that’s all done pretty automatically. But I also think that’s a different kind of storytelling than the exact one that we’re talking about. And I also think that’s right. The Atavist, what those guys did is, from the very start, that’s what an Atavist story is. And, you know, they’ve built some incredible features. My favorite one is they have all their authors read their stories so you can listen to it like an audiobook, and then it saves your place in the audio, so I have, like, a ten-minute walk to the subway in the morning, so I can listen to it on my way to the subway, then read it on the subway, then pick it back up, which is amazing. That’s multimedia storytelling.

AL: It should be noted, though, those guys at The Atavist also sell in the Kindle Singles store, and a lot of people buy the text versions, and it has none of the multimedia, and still like it. So I really think that some of the perfectionism of form, like people are willing to accept a different experience, and good storytelling is good storytelling, and most things can work in text. And I think one thing to note is that the Kindle is still the dominant e-reader, and the Kindle is not really a multimedia platform right now. And design sort of goes accordingly.

AL: Yeah! Alright.

ML: Thank you.

[Applause]

 

Transcribed by Nikki Carroll