Are Big Publishers Strangling the Short Story?

By Neal Comment

GalleyCat is known for dishing out prescriptive commentary on the publishing industry’s doings, but it can still feel weird to see the real journalists who cover the book biz for print media doing it—like Leon Neyfakh‘s article in this week’s NY Observer about the industry’s refusal to break up short story collections and anthologies. Neyfakh notes that commercial publishers have long believed that the short story is dead, while “Americans have stopped reading books because blogs and text messaging have made them incapable of paying attention to anything longer than a few pages.” So, he asks, “Considering how much everyone is supposed to like short things now, shouldn’t short stories be a growth industry, rather than a marginal niche product enjoyed only by the most dedicated readers?”

“The problem,” he continues, “is that publishers and retailers insist on selling short stories in bunches as though they were grapes, thereby forfeiting any potential advantage they might have over novels if they stood alone.” And then he makes the case for how corporate publishers “could make little menus like they have in sushi restaurants that list all the authors in their stables who write short stories with any regularity, and subscribers could check off the ones whose work they’re interested in receiving and pay a monthly premium for the privilege.” And just in case you don’t get it, he wraps the message up at the end: “The point is to sell the things one at a time and market them accordingly, hooking in those people who might very well like your authors if only their books were not all so long and daunting.”

Such earnestness is par for the course around this blog, as previously noted, but slightly disconcerting to see in our print media. Not necessarily disconcerting in a bad way, though. And, heck, the future of short fiction anthologies is of no little interest around these parts.