Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Longform Isn't Dead, It's Binary...

 An interesting article on about the transition of longform sports writing from print to digital...

As any literary-minded technophile will tell you, the Internet has become a haven for lengthy, high-quality prose, with sites from the Awl to BuzzFeed regularly churning out 4,000-word stories. But it’s not just rambling book reviews and art-world treatises. The art of longform sportswriting has also found new life on the Web.

This sportswriting renaissance includes relative newcomers like Bill Simmons’ Grantland, sports blog network SB Nation and Deadspin (Manti Te’o, anyone?) and established players like USA Today (a backer of Sports on Earth) and Sports Illustrated, which has been pulling archived stories for its tablet editions. "A number of sports entities are seeing that the future of sports journalism lays in longform, as people become more accustomed to reading on phones and tablets," said Glenn Stout, who has edited The Best American Sports Writing book series since its inception in 1991 and also oversees SB Nation’s new longform section.

While Stout once relied on newspapers to fill The Best American Sports Writing volumes, he is increasingly pulling articles from digital-only outlets. Notwithstanding recent high-profile sports pieces by The New York Times and The Atlantic, Stout said print outlets are finding it harder to do these big stories."Twenty or 25 years ago, there were 50 or 60 of these Sunday newspaper supplements nationwide, and they were a great source [for longform sportswriting]," he said. “Those don’t exist anymore.”

Similar thinking inspired sports startup The Classical. Its dozen founders, including writers like Bethlehem Shoals and Tim Marchman, pitched the idea on Kickstarter, promising "just brainy sports journalism, every day." In less than two months, they raised more than $55,000. Now, the site’s offbeat sports stories (titles “Rabbit Remembered” and “A Portrait of Kenny as a Young Hooper” belie their authors’ literary backgrounds) are getting picked up by the likes of Deadspin and Salon.

"In the past, if I had written the kind of stuff I’ve written for The Classical, no magazine would be able to run it," said one of the site’s co-founders, Pete Beatty, who also works as a book editor. "It costs us the same amount [of money] to run 3,000 or 300 words," said co-founder David Roth, who writes for The Wall Street Journal’s blog The Daily Fix. “We have some freedom in that regard that the Journal doesn’t although they do have a lot of advantages over us—like an office, for starters.”

The Classical also doesn’t have the funds to pay writers although its founders hope that will change in the coming year; the site is in talks with 29th Street Publishing to sell content in the form of iPad magazines.

For now, the exposure is enough for longform proponents like Stout. "There might not be a whole lot of money in it yet," he said. “But you can not only find a place to show your work—you can find an audience for it.”

Just wondering out loud here, but could the same model work for literary, long-form sporting prose? The historical parallels and market forces affecting the two genres are essentially the same, and in fact I'd argue the current prospects for print-based long-form sporting journalism are even worse than they are for traditional sports writing.

Kickstarter or some other form of crowd-sourcing for such a venture is intriguing, but the question would be: are there enough fans out there to support something like a hook-and-bullet Grantland? If the current state of the hook-and-bullet press is any indication, I have my doubts, given the rather miniscule circulations of literary sporting books like Gray's and Sporting Classics

Or are their small circulations more a function of their - for lack of a better term - "sad, nostalgic old bastard*" style of prose that appeals to an ever-shrinking pool of readers, and that something like my "Rolling Stream" idea from a few months ago might appeal to a larger body of potential readers?

Eh, who knows? But maybe I finally need to invest in a tablet/iPad/Kindle/Nook to see for myself what it's like to read a piece of longform journalism on such a device...

Just for the record, I wasn't being pejorative there. I happen to like sad, nostalgic old bastard prose very much. Because I'm quickly becoming one...

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