craveIt’s that time again: time for another attempt to “save” the book by serializing it. This one comes by way of a long feature article on the Huffington Post about a new startup called “Crave.” Like Harlequin’s recent attempt, it focuses on romance novels, because romance readers are considered to be especially voracious readers who want an “immersive” experience. But unlike Harlequin or Serial Box, for Crave chopping the story into pieces is just the beginning.

Crave works with novels that are also published in plain old book format, by coupling a thousand or so words of text from the book with multimedia expansions of the story. They hire writers, actors and a film crew to create movies of the central characters, or instant messages from them, or other interactive features. The reader gets one of these bite-sized installments per day. The first week is free, then the reader has to pay $3.99 per week to subscribe to get the story doled out day by day. The app is currently available for iOS, with an Android version being “only a few more weeks away.”

The profile of Crave has all the earmarks of the various attempts we’ve previously covered to “save” the book by reinventing it with multimedia. Co-founder and CEO Ziv Navoth is another true believer:

In Navoth’s eyes, Crave is just one foray into the brave new world of reimagining literature for the digital native. For one thing, his team decided, the whole book format is outdated in the era of social media. “We realized that something’s going on in the way stories are being told,” explained Navoth. “If we want these artifacts to be relevant, not as something that’s printed on dead trees, but as something that’s a long story — we believe in the future of long stories — then we have to bring them to this world.”

Sure, you might say. Like an ebook. But to Navoth, an ebook doesn’t truly inhabit the digital media space the way other forms of entertainment do. “Not really different. Nothing to write home about,” he said dismissively of a traditional ebook. “We said, OK, so forget about, ‘How do we take books and make them digital?’ How does digital change the nature of storytelling, especially longform storytelling?”

It’s still early days yet for Crave, and the startup is still working with focus groups and listening to user feedback to try to improve the experience. Some early users actually complain about the serial nature of the experience and want to be able to see the whole thing at once—the way modern consumers have gotten used to being able to “binge watch” shows from Netflix. (This is not exactly surprising, given that the whole reason they’re targeting romance readers to begin with is that they’re “voracious.”) It’s a tricky point, given that the company will need that $3.99 per week to pay for all the extra multimedia content it’s creating around a plain old book; it remains to be seen how the company will deal with readers who want more, though Navoth did say there were some changes in the offing.

The first book was published before the app was ready to go, but in the future Crave plans to do this for books that aren’t out yet, in advance of the book being available. Although the HuffPo piece doesn’t go into this, I could see how this could work as an additional form of advance marketing for the book, getting readers interested in a book that isn’t out yet but soon will be. In fact, who knows—maybe as an alternate business model, Crave could get a publisher to bankroll its production and then put the installments out there for free instead of charging readers $3.99 a week.

I’ve expressed my share of doubts about such literary rescue missions in the past, but I suppose I’m starting to come around. I’m still skeptical that such a new format can take off, but I actually think it’s a good idea that people are out there trying it anyway. After all, maybe sooner or later one of them will stick. Maybe they know something I don’t. The new format doesn’t appeal to me, at least as described, and I’m not a big romance reader, but maybe I’d change my mind if it were for a book I liked. Maybe there are enough readers out there who actually do want this kind of thing that they can make a go of it.

But if not, we’ve still got plain vanilla e-books to tide us over.

(Found via The Passive Voice.)


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