Over the past few years there have been a number of interesting projects entering the digital-only marketplace with long-form content at their core.

And others which collect together such works have also launched alongside them, such as Longreads.com, which arrived in 2009, and LongForm.org in 2010.

LongReads.com says on its 'about' page, that the content it collects is the sort of material which is "perfect for the iPad, iPhone or Kindle, and apps like Read It Later, Flipboard and Instapaper."

This desire to reach people with this material on portable devices was also seen with the launch of platforms such as The Atavist in the US, around a year and a half ago, which "publishes bestselling non-fiction stories that are longer than typical magazine articles but shorter than books" for Android, iPhone, iPad and Kindle devices.

And in 2010 the market had seen the arrival of Byliner, which publishes fiction and non-fiction writing of between 5,000 and 30,000 words which "are sold as Kindle Singles at Amazon, Quick Reads at Apple's iBookstore, and Nook Snaps at BN.com". It also curates "new and classic stories" on its website Byliner.com.

And there are more digital platforms dedicated to in-depth storytelling yet to launch, such as Matter, which will be dedicated to long-form science and technology journalism when it launches next month, and Narratively, which will be committed to publishing daily multimedia-rich stories on New York themes.

So considering the many interesting players already active in the digital space, and others preparing to test the waters, Journalism.co.uk looks at the digital challenges and opportunities being faced by such players, as well as the opportunities they have found.

This feature, which will also look at the different business models being adopted and publishers' pointers on content strategy, features comments from Alissa Quart, editor-at-large for The Atavist, Lucia Adams, digital development editor at The Times, Jim Giles, co-founder of Matter and Noah Rosenberg, founder of Narratively.
  • The impact of the 24-hour news cycle and 140-character digital communication
Long-form journalism has been struggling to deal with the transition from print to the internetJim Giles, Matter
Matter's Jim Giles said that in recent times "long-form journalism has been struggling to deal with the transition from print to the internet".

"In some ways you can see that transition as an unbundling of these traditional bundles of content, like newspapers and magazines and different parts of newspapers and magazines, have been picked off and made to work in online environment.

"So there are great sites for doing movie reviews, gadget reviews and there's lots of opinion online, there's blogs which are in some ways replacing the shorter news stories," he explained. But in comparison "long-form content hasn't made that transition" in quite the same way.

"I think that's just because the online economics don't work quite so well for long-form material. You need very high reader numbers to attract advertisers and you will find it hard to charge for stuff, or people have found it hard to charge for stuff in the past, so that's a real challenge if you're trying to sell long-form material."

And for news outlets covering the 24-hour news cycle and big news events, the more in-depth features may get "quickly overshadowed by the next big headline", Narratively's Noah Rosenberg said.

His new platform, Narratively, will aim to dedicate each week to one issue, with a daily story produced around that theme.

Meanwhile in the print industry "there's been shrinking staff at newspapers, diminishing foreign bureaus to sometimes no foreign bureaus," The Atavist's Alissa Quart added.

"It's been a very difficult time economically for journalists and for publications. At the same time it's been an amazing time for innovations like this one [The Atavist], new kinds of storytelling and individuals who have ideas for ways of telling a story in multimedia or through graphic non-fiction."
  • So what's changed? Digital shifts prompt opportunities for traditional, long-form reporting
I think people are realising that 'hey, there's more to the internet, there's more to journalism and news than this'Noah Rosenberg, Narratively
So as Quart indicates, the digital space has also fuelled innovations for long-form content.

Rosenberg said he has observed "a real resurgence in the past few years for in-depth, high-quality journalism, high-quality storytelling".

"I think people are realising that 'hey, there's more to the internet, there's more to journalism and news than this'."

And at The Times there has been a continued demand for long-form journalism on digital platforms. Lucia Adams added that platforms such as Twitter have actually "supported the consumption of long-form journalism, precisely because it's a place where you can discover interesting things".

"If you follow a bunch of really interesting people they will point you in the direction of really good reads and following up from that then it's a place where people can talk about it. If anything it sort of brings it to life."
  • Moving mobile and the impact of the app
Specific new developments that have helped drive this shift include the rise of apps and the way news is consumed on tablet devices, Giles said.

Apps have "made people feel comfortable with making small payments online", he explained.

"You know that kind of impulse buy for 99p or 99 cents, it's just become usual and people are comfortable with it.

"The other really interesting and important thing is the way people use tablets. So we know that when people consume content on tablets it's not the same as the way they consume it on laptops or desktops.

"People read longer pieces on tablets, they engage with those pieces, they read them to the end and really critically they're willing to pay for news on a tablet in a way they're not willing to do online ... on a conventional computer."

I think this idea that we have in the backs of our minds that long-form journalism is only for lazy Sundays when you can lean back in an armchair, that's just not the way peoples' lives work.Lucia Adams, The Times
Adams also identified mobile devices as "a real game-changer".

"The iPad has been a real revolution for publishers and readers because it re-creates that newspaper-like experience and ultimately print is the technology that we've honed for centuries and one which readers understand and really love and so the iPad has given longer pieces a new lease of life.

"But I think smartphones as well. I find myself loitering at a bus stop or train station, looking at Twitter and then ending up reading really quite chunky pieces. I think the point about smartphones and long-form journalism is you have a phone in your pocket wherever you go and if you have time it's about fitting those long-reads into your life.

"I think this idea that we have in the backs of our minds that long-form journalism is only for lazy Sundays when you can lean back in an armchair, that's just not the way peoples' lives work. Our jobs are to make sure journalism fits into people's lifestyles and that means making it available wherever they happen to be."
  • Making money - just some of the business models
At The Atavist its non-fiction pieces are sold for between $2 and $3, and they are also due to publish four short documentaries which could be sold through iTunes.

The Atavist is also supported by its software work, with its publishing platform available for licensing by other publishers.

Giles said when Matter was still in the planning stages he "looked at the success of Atavist and thought 'well we can probably adapt that from this kind of content'".

Giles said a number of business models, including both individual article payments, such as at The Atavist, and bundle models, such as the New York Times paywall, have already seen success.

"So [the New York Times] is selling a traditional bundle of content and making it work, which I think is much more surprising than hearing people are selling individual articles, that feels like a logical way to go online. Selling the bundles is harder so it's great to hear that they're doing well."

Both Matter and Narratively took to crowdfunding website Kickstarter to raise funds to get up and running. Narratively's campaign for $50,000 still has a few weeks to go while Matter managed to raise $140,000 by the end of its campaign.

Narratively, on the other hand, plans to offer its day-to-day content for free with a premium membership for added extras. It will also run live events which will be ticketed and sponsored, and long-term will look to syndicate and license content to other news outlets.

Rosenberg said he wants to "grow the concept first". He added: "Of course the business model is very well thought out, and I think by allowing the content to roam free and evolve and expand and go viral ... I think when people come to realise what Narratively is all about and what more they can get from the premium membership system."

The Times in the UK also has a paywall, and as well as people paying to subscribe to its online content, it has also produced Kindle Singles as another way of pushing out long-form content.

We've had readers write to us and tell us that's one of the reasons that they like to subscribe to the Times, it's the fact that long-form journalism comes to life and they can really be part of it immediately as soon as it's publishedLucia Adams, The Times
Adams said the volume of comments left under its longer pieces of online content acts as a good measure of the success of such material on digital platforms.

"For us the thing that we find time and time again is that it's opinion pieces and it's leaders that get really exciting comment threads happening at the bottom of the piece.

"The old days when as a journalist you'd research a piece, you'd write it, you'd file it and then you'd move on to the next one is definitely gone. At the bottom of our opinion pieces we have the commentators chipping in, getting involved and being part of that conversation.

"We've had readers write to us and tell us that's one of the reasons that they like to subscribe to The Times is the fact that long-form journalism comes to life and they can really be part of it immediately as soon as it's published."
  • Mixing it up with multimedia
And of course digital publishing affords plenty of opportunity to add colour to long-form pieces with multimedia, where appropriate.

Quart spoke about how The Atavist had not only included multimedia in its products but made it an integral part of the narrative, such as by opening a piece with a video or animation in the place of the first chapter, which means the "reader's thrown into a multimedia experience".
 
They also embed sound "as much as we can", she added, and is "now trying to get a soundtrack for one of our books".

It's no longer inert, you can kind of plan books as you're making them to have all these additional elements whereas traditionally in magazine publishing and book publishing anything else is after the factAlissa Quart, The Atavist
She also highlighted the impact this has on the production workflow itself and the way multimedia is thought of in the planning process.

"It's no longer inert, you can kind of plan books as you're making them to have all these additional elements whereas traditionally in magazine publishing and book publishing anything else is after the fact, you finish it and then the art department puts in photos and potentially there's a podcast along with it, but it's sort of an afterthought. This is like where you can plan the multimedia at its inception. That's a really different way of viewing what non-fiction is."

Narratively is centred on multimedia, with the aim of running a different medium of story each day, from magazine feature-length pieces and documentaries to audio and animations.

It will also aim to offer added community engagement as well, with Fridays dedicated to curating together "the social conversation" from during the week.

At Matter the focus for now is on creating "really compelling narratives", but will look at multimedia capabilities in time, Giles said.

"What we want to do is create really compelling narratives, the kind of stuff that you end up sort of missing your stop on the bus, because you just want to keep reading it, and that is largely about getting great writers and getting great editors to tell great stories in text.

"That's what we're doing first and then I think we'll start thinking about audio and video and animations later on."
  • Opportunities within a niche or certain genres
Matter is dedicated to long-form journalism within the science and technology industries, identifying two niches that Giles and co-founder Bobbie Johnson are confident are a gap in the market.

"We, like many people writing in this area, just felt that there was very few outlets that were interested in running really in-depth, high quality narrative driven stuff about science and technology and we were pretty sure there was a demand for it," he said.

And Quart identified a number of other genres which lend themselves to the area of digital long-form publishing.

This includes memoirs, she said, as "you can have a lot of archival images", as well as historical books "because there are a lot of artefacts in any history book".
 
She added that it is the "same for crime stories" which often include "a lot of legal documents".

  • And print?
But while digital platforms are offering new ways to consume and deliver long-form journalism, of course it does not mean a closed door on print forms of in-depth storytelling. Even for the digital player Narratively, which hopes, in time, to release a print product to complement its online material.

"Really the important thing for us at the beginning is just getting our website out there, really developing a following ... so initially it will be Narrative.ly and that's a mobile-friendly, responsive website that will look just as good on your iPhone and your iPad as it will on your web browser.

If you want to be able to deep dive into a subject and discuss it and explore a range of opinions then those needs are there no matter what the technologyLucia Adams, The Times
"... Down the line I certainly am not ruling out, in fact I'm excited about, possibly doing a print product at some point down the road, whether it's a quarterly or bi-monthly, we'll figure out the timetable on it."

As Adams adds, when it comes to deciding on the delivery platform for this content, it is about putting the story first and going digital for a reason.

"It's about thinking about the best way to present a story, sometimes through words, sometimes through graphics ... being really clear on why you're deploying those tools and not just creating a proliferation of those things so that you can be more digital.

"It's got to fulfil a certain need in some sort of a way."

But she added that the growth of new platforms has not changed what readers ultimately want to get out of long-form journalism.

"I think what people want to read doesn't change in some ways. If you want to be able to deep dive into a subject and discuss it and explore a range of opinions then those needs are there no matter what the technology."

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