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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Webisodes, Mobisodes, Podiobooks - oh my!

This from the blog of my dear friend and mentor, Jeff Lyons:


My head is spinning!

I’m currently involved in producing a movie for DVD release. No, I’m not bragging. It’s still in the financing phase, so it could all just go bye-bye any moment … kind of like Bear Sterns or Lehman Brothers … anyway, my point is that this movie I’m doing is also going to be put up as a webseries. I’m telling you all this because the education I am getting and the slap-upside-my-head experience of researching how webseries need to be “put up” and the wild west nature of this whole process has my head spinning.

In all the spinning, however, I’ve gotten glimpses of a wave of change that is sweeping over the Internet effecting writers of every stripe. This blog entry cannot possibly address all that could or should be said about this. But, hopefully this will generate some dialogue about the topics I’m going to discuss and through this discussion perhaps we will all get a better grasp of what is quickly turning from wave into a tsunami.

First off, who is at risk? Yes, I use the word “risk” intentionally. Everyone who writes in formats considered “old media” are at risk. This list includes: novelists, poets, short story writers, playwrights, screenwriters, journalists, academicians, and anyone else who has something to say in the written word (bloggers excluded). Now don’t panic, books are not going anywhere, or films/TV, or short story collections, etc. The risk part has to do with missing out on all the new formats and distribution channels developing to get your work into the “hands” of potential readers. What are these new and risky avenues? Here is a short list, and I’m excluding all the “old,” boring platforms like e-books (soooo 20th Century!):

(Blurbs courtesy of Wikipedia)

Webisodes: A webisode is an episode of a television show that airs initially as an Internet download or stream as opposed to first airing on broadcast or cable television. A webisode is simply a web episode —collectively it is part of a web series, which features a dramatic, serial storyline, where the primary method of viewership is streaming online over the Internet.

Mobisodes: Mobisode is a term for a broadcast television episode specially made for viewing on a mobile telephone screen and usually of short duration (from one to three minutes).

Cell Phone Novels: Cell phone or mobile phone novels are meant to be read in 1,000 to 2,000-word (in China) or 70-word (in Japan) chapters via text message on mobile phones. They are downloaded in short installments and run on handsets as Java-based applications on a mobile phone. Cell phone novels often appear in three different formats: WMLD, JAVA and TXT.

Podcasts: A podcast is a series of audio or video digital-media files which is distributed over the Internet by syndicated download, through Web feeds, to portable media players and personal computers.

Mashups: A digital mashup is a digital media file containing any or all of text, graphics, audio, video and animation drawn from pre-existing sources, to create a new derivative work.

Podiobooks: A specific form of mashup. These are serialized novels or short stories in podcast format, which mix mixed media, narrative, audio, and anything else the writer can squeeze into it. These are very akin to the old radio dramas of the 1930s. (Amazingly there is no Wiki entry on this yet)

Net-Native Narratives: Also, no Wiki entry for this yet. This is very new stuff. This is a form of storytelling that marries traditional narratives with gaming ARG (Alternate Reality Game) environments to create an interactive, immersive narrative experience. Imagine Moby Dick as an interactive, ARG experience. Ok, maybe not the best choice, but how about Dracula?

A writer can certainly choose to ignore all of these tempting tidbits and simply churn out traditional hard copy. This does not make you a Luddite (look it up if you don’t know the term). The John Updikes and the Amy Tans of the literary world will still wow us with their prose and enchant us with great storytelling. But, the Stephen Kings, Dean Koontzes, and Robin Cooks of the world will write their books AND are putting up webisodes and podiobooks and expanding their readership exponentially, attracting readers/viewers they would have missed entirely if they had just relied on pure hard copy and the marketing might of their publishers.

The other empowering aspect of all these tempting tidbits is that authors are now becoming more empowered to take control of how their work is disseminated and this can only be a good thing. For a writer to remain solely at the beck-and-call of their publisher for exposure and distribution is completely unnecessary with all these new technologies. Publishers are pulling back on support for their authors anyway, so now writers are much more capable of taking the reigns of their promotion and distribution into their own hands. Missing this opportunity is one of the main things writers risk by ignoring all these new developments.

Now, it doesn’t mean you have to go back to school and get a degree in Artificial Intelligence for M.I.T. There are lots of companies, services, and consultants out there now to help you develop your work into these new formats—yes, for a price. But, freedom doesn’t come cheap. Nor should it.

Okay. If your head is spinning, join the club. I’m going to leave it at this. Potential, possibility, and opportunity: these are the watchwords for the future. Welcome to a brave new world. Big Brother is watching, but the good news is he’s paying for the privilege through service fees, website memberships, and pay-per-click advertising dollars. Spin, spin, spin.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jeff, informative post. Can you speak to the business side and whether there is a market for someone who wants to write (as opposed to direct/produce) in these new formats? Sounds very DIY at this point, wondering if that will change and if so who will be buying.

Jeff Lyons said...


From what I understand most of this has not been well monetized. The webseries/webisodes, however, are gaining speed and more and more strategies are developing to create cash flow and profit. Nobody still has a working model, but that's not stopping everybody from getting into the space. It's only a matter of time, and a short time. Podiobooks actually are turning a profit for authors. But it's so alien to most writers, especially novelists, that there aren't many trying it. Cell phone novels are making money in Asia/Europe, but not here, mainly because we're so behind the technology curve in mobile. But if you can get a deal with an Asian publisher or put up a noevel through one of the launchsites like, then you can tap into this. The money part will come... it's just not there yet.


Jeff Lyons said...


A bit more that's relevant:

All these new formats are really about platforming a writer. Writers today (in fiction/nonfiction) have to platform themselves. I have a whole blog entry on this on my blog. First time writers will have a hard time getting a book deal if they don't already have a platform, which means having a lot of these elements working for you. There more to it, but the idea of platforming a writer is critical these days to financial success! Without a platform (website, ecommerce, blogs, etc) a writer is not going to be attractive to a prospective publisher. They just don't do the promotion and support work for their writers they once did. They expect the writer to bear that burden. Harsh world... but there it is.


Jeff Bach said...

Hello world
Great post here! What I'm finding to be true (or at least one version of "true"), is that this newish platform is really just the content creator doing more of their own marketing. As the publisher becomes unable or unwilling to spend on marketing, these new media platforms emerge as a DIY form of self promotion and self marketing. It is new. Happily it is not rocket science. It does require enduring a learning curve. It also shows the erosion of power and influence that publishers are experiencing. Fragmentation and disintermediation are two big words that fit this space VERY WELL. In the old way, a publisher could get their "content" in one or two places and expect to capture 90% of the eyeballs. Today, eyeballs are everywhere, so the content has to be everywhere. It is MUCH harder to aggregate people's interest. Most unhappily, if you look at it in terms of labor, the content creator is most often going to be required to do more of the work, which usually means the creator absorbs more of the costs since this work is typically unpaid and unfunded.
To me, this is the Wild West not so much in terms of there being no rules, but more so in terms of the content creator truly being on their own!
Again -- Great post!!!!
Jeff Bach
Quietwater Films

Jeff Bach said...

First post got me thinking about this hugely worthy topic.....

One more thing I might add is that the ability to aggregate eyeballs is possibly the most important piece of this issue. The tools mentioned in the article make the "producer-side" of the equation affordable. But for the most part, they do NOTHING to improve "discoverability". In other words, if the content owner spends ~1,000 dollars, or their equivalent in time, on producing a webisode or podiobook and they get three downloads or 100 views, is it worth it? Having the tools at hand and using them is one part of the answer. But in this age of information and content being fragmented into thousands of places, with each consumer potentially viewing their own unique info source (the downside of one to one marketing), how does a content creator effectively and affordably reach the large number of people they need to reach? I never much cared for AOL back in their glory days, but with respect to this issue of aggregating people, I can certainly see the value of a "walled garden" or a portal that brings people together in one place now more than ever. This part of the new media publishing business model still has a long ways to go before any of us can afford to be in it as independent producers.
Jeff Bach