I love short stories.
I love to read them, and I love to write them.
Short stories are very, very powerful. They can, when done right, pack the punch of a novel into just a few pages.
But short stories have nearly disappeared from most writers' repertoirre because of business models.
A century ago the best short story writers worked for newspapers. O. Henry was a newspaperman. (To the right is the cover for the Japanese edition of this.)
Ever since O. Henry's time, however, markets for short stories have been drying up. There was a vogue for "pulp" magazines, from which modern science fiction emerged, and a few publications, like The New Yorker, still buy a few. Once a writer becomes established they can pull their old short stories out of a drawer and make a book out of them. Some, like Orson Scott Card, even lend their names, their sensibility, and their editing to whole collections of short stories in book form.
But that's rare. There is, on the whole, nothing between the "heights" in the short story format and the "dregs." There's no way to make a living there. You either write novels or you go hungry.
I'm not complaining. I'm simply stating that business models, or the lack of them, can control what we read, see and hear. What's true in fiction is also true in music and movies.
But, as we're seeing, maybe not in music any longer.
For two generations now the business model in music has revolved around the album. The format moved easily from vinyl to CD. Singles were created to sell albums. Albums had arcs. Listeners might complain, at first, "why am I buying 10 songs when I only care about one," but after they played the thing enough times they were usually satisfied.
Musicians, meanwhile, issued albums the way novelists released books. Every year or two your favorite artist had something new in the stores, new hits on the radio, and fans would add this to their collections. Concerts became "live albums," and for those who only wanted to hear one or two songs a year, there were "greatest hits" collections.
Apple's iTunes (the illustration is by Jason Schneider of iLevel Designs) has made this start to break down. Suddenly there is a business model for singles that people might accept. How long before an artist, say one not tied to the old system but popular nonetheless, starts releasing singles on a monthly basis? They can sell the singles now, through iTunes, and sell the collection later, when they're all hits.
One more interesting point that is often missed. The Apple iTunes site has a book store. Prices range from $3 to $16 per book.
But how about a short story, a new one, from someone you like, at, say 50 cents? How about if Apple started giving these stories away, to folks who registered for an online "book club?" Sure, at first you'd just see popular novelists in there, name-above-the-title brands. But a contest, say (an online answer to "American Idol") might bring new people into the mix, short story specialists whose work we'd pay for.