Anytime, anywhere? Penguin digital shorts
This column was originally published on Killings.
With the ubiquity of smartphones and e-readers, and the wealth of content available to us – from podcasts to video on demand – it was inevitable that publishers would publish (and require) more from writers. To appease the busy, mobile and insatiable e-masses, following on from similar and successful international initiatives, a bout of digital shorts have been released locally.
Competing with free short content available on personal blogs or dedicated websites, local publishers have released affordable packages of e-shorts. Portable non-fiction or fiction stories, by writers known and unknown, are available for an array of digital devices. They are pitched as original, locally produced snack-priced treats for the on-the-go mind, for an audience who want more and less to squeeze into any available corner of life.
Here at Killings, we decided to nibble on a couple of the digital shorts campaigns during our busy day-to-day lives.
The Penguin Shorts mission statement reads like the wordy title of Nam Le’s contribution: these shorts are ‘quality’ and ‘original’ and ‘affordable’ and ‘exciting’. When I read three of the texts – released in April this year – on my iPhone, these adjectives eventually rang true. The files contained thirty-ish pages of well-written stories from well-known local names, chosen for their literary associations and established, niche audiences.
However, I say eventually for a reason. After downloading the required free app – txtr ebooks – the e-book files wouldn’t upload, my account password was declined and the app crashed at least twice. Perhaps if I had purchased the e-books through one of the vendor options (Amazon.com, Apple iBookstore, Google Play and Kobo), it would have been easier.
Procedural gripes aside, the visual presentation on my small glowing screen was pleasant: stark, neat and easily read while I was at the gym, waiting for coffee and, of course, on public transport.
James Bradley’s reimagining of Rapunzel in Beauty’s Sister offered what I have longed for from other recent pop culture forays into fairytale extension. Utilising fable tropes such as sibling rivalry, childhood misadventure and sorcery, Beauty’s Sister took me into its world, allowing me to forget that I was stand-spooning a stranger on the 96 tram.
In Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire’s Women of Letters collation, personal snippets from the likes of Helen Garner and Deborah Conway, momentarily took me away from the mundane. The competently curated letters are filled with humour and heart, with tinges of melancholy or longing. As the prose delicately unfolds, each voice is clear, making the letters easy to devour while waiting for a morning caffeine hit.
Likewise, Nam Le’s short – Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice – was a tight and densely emotional journey that sucked me in and contained as much power as the lengthy title.
These stories are sold as distractions for the easily distracted, yet this is a double-edged sword. Reading these gloriously intricate tales on my iPhone was convenient, yet the primary function of my device served as a distraction in itself. Midway through a poignant scene in Le’s story, I was interrupted by a text message. And the message’s presence vibrated in my brain until I closed the e-book to read it.
Also, despite the claim that these texts are ‘only available in digital format’, Le’s short has, for example, in fact been published in hard copy before, but is an exclusive as an individual story in this particular form.
In all, I enjoyed reading the first three digital shorts from this initial series of seven, and will gladly devour the others, wherever I am, when I have a moment to spare.