Paul Vidich logged eighteen years as a senior executive in technology and business development at both Warner Music and AOL. An ambassador for digital music at the launch of iTunes in 2003, Vidich suggested to Steve Jobs that Apple sell digital music to the ring of 99 cents a song. Dedicated to the intersection of technology and media, he helped shape the on-demand video business at AOL in a pre-Hulu world. In 2009, Vidich graduated from Rutgers-Newark MFA program having been “immersed in writing.” A lover of short stories, Vidich and his co-founders, Atul Sood and Scott Lavine, set to distribute short stories weekly via subscription to their iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad app: Storyville. Storyville launched in December 2010 but has already been named a top five literary treat by the Los Angeles Times. So far, Storyville has published short stories by literati Ben Greenman, Kate Bernheimer, Robert Boswell, and Shannan Rouss.
Tell me how you and your co-founders came to develop the Storyville app.
When I finished the MFA, I recognized that there is a disconnect between publishers of short story collections and readers of the collections. Publishers tend not to market collections, and it’s hard for short story readers to discover all the great new work that is published. Right now, short stories are mostly available in literary journals, which publish to very small audiences. The stories don’t get wide exposure and are not widely read. Many of the best short story collections are published by independent presses or university presses, which don’t get wide distribution. It’s difficult to find these collections and, as a result, they don’t sell much and it’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. They don’t sell much so they don’t get marketed, and then they don’t sell much.
If you look at the history of the short story, its rise and fall directly parallels the rise and fall of mass market consumer magazines, which once were the principle first outlet for short stories. Certainly, that was true with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Ray Bradbury and others. Today, however, there is only one mass market magazine that regularly publishes short stories: The New Yorker. This distribution problem interested us. I know this is sort of anecdotal, but you’re a writer of stories and a reader?
And you have a lot of friends who read and write?
Yes, I do.
Where do you get your stories?
We all read The New Yorker. We tend to read small literary magazines that are either based in Brooklyn or Manhattan that we try and support. And then, like you said, we read short story collections by already-established authors that we love.
So, we looked at the friction in this market and said wouldn’t it be interesting to solve the problem with the medium of mobile distribution, the iPhone and the iPad, which I know my friends and my friends’ friends use? I believe there is a large number of people who would find this an interesting way to engage with literature — through a medium with which they are comfortable, which is electronic distribution of content. Based on my own experience working in technology and in content, we saw this as an interesting solution that nobody was doing.
Why does Storyville deliver content that has already been published?
The thing that most people like when they’re dealing with content is that they like to have some basis on which to judge whether they should spend time with the content. The reason The New Yorker plays such a big role in short stories right now is because the editor there curates the short stories and brings you their view of what’s interesting right now. Somebody brings some authority to the decision and you choose to go with it. I think that’s what we’re hoping to do here.
We publish established writers, emerging writers, and we are also bringing back stories that have fallen out of the canon that, in my view, people should be aware of, such as “The Remission” by Mavis Gallant. So we’re going to publish “The Remission” and make it available to a whole new group of readers.
How do you envision Storyville impacting the literary community?
Finding gems that you might not have found. That’s one of thing I’m hoping that we’ll be able to do. This was a way to try and address this gap — the many stories that are out there and are wonderful. Many readers of short stories don’t have a convenient way to connect with short stories other than The New Yorker. And The New Yorker is wonderful, but it’s also got it’s own particular editorial place and it’s a great place, but it’s also a fraction of what’s out there.
When I first became aware of Storyville, it reminded me of One Story [literary magazine that offers short stories – one per issue] right away.
One Story is wonderful. Our mission complements their mission. One Story is about new writers and they never repeat writers. But we are looking for stories that are already out there, but that haven’t found an audience. I also believe that being only a mobile web app creates a new cultural currency for a different audience — the young audience that is evolving and finding its literary footing. Print is wonderful and I prefer to read print, but the notion of short stories is that you don’t need to own the short story. You need to own the experience of the short story.
How do you think recent technologies and gadgets have changed the way people read, if at all? And how has Storyville reacted to these changes?
I think people’s attitudes change based on the technology that is in front of them. The song, for example. It was very clear to me after Napster came along that if people didn’t have an alternative, they would just steal. What we discovered with Apple was that the music companies thought that they were selling music, but what the consumers bought was, in fact, an experience. That experience was the ability to go to a place, search for a song, download it, and then put it on a portable playback device. That was the experience they were paying for. They could get that same track on Napster or through a file-sharing program. To me, that’s a little bit of what we’re doing. You can find these stories in a book, but that isn’t necessarily going to make it accessible to you.
Another thing that is important here is that I don’t think reading is a solitary experience. You read to experience the story, but then you want to share something that you liked — that is to have a conversation about what moved you. So we have this feature in the app that allows you to post a comment to Twitter or Facebook. Your friends will then know what you have read and, if they are readers, they can experience it. To me, having that conversation is the new connected world that we’re in, which is a virtual, expanding community. It’s another way in which people engage with words and stories. You can’t do that in print.
Most of what I see in my Twitter feed, within literary circles, is comments on books or quoted passages. Everyone is always tweeting what they’re reading, like #fridayreads or #amreading, or what they plan on reading, what they wish they were reading.
Right. So in this case, you’re actually reading and tweeting within the app. And I think that is, in fact, where literature is going. There are two trends I’m seeing right now: we’re all becoming closer together and on the other hand, we’re also becoming micro-communities and I think the literary world is a becoming a bit of a micro-community. One of the things that mobile access can do is satisfy micro-communities.
Do you believe reading is becoming a more collective, communal experience?
Yeah. People read to be entertained. They read to be instructed. And when that happens, you want to share that with your world. One of the things about publishing stories on a weekly basis is that there is this periodicity — people have expectations that on Tuesday morning, a story will come and they will read it.
I do that with The New Yorker on my Kindle. It comes Monday morning.
Right. And you expect it and you look at it. One of the problems with literary journals is that the gap between delivery is so long that you forget what it is. I don’t think the journals satisfy readers in the same way. I subscribe to many and some of them are very well done, but there is such a long gap.
How do you think Storyville will appeal to writers?
We are doing a writer-ly thing. I have asked each writer to tell “the story behind the story.” What triggered the writing of this story? Why did you write it? I have been delighted and surprised at the answers. Storyville has been designed for people who care about short stories.
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