Media Models: Faux-Flublogger Reaps Profits From Micro Niches

Peter Christian HallMeet Peter Christian Hall. He’s a writer and filmmmaker obsessed with the flu.

When bird flu frenzy hit a few years back, Hall got writing. “This was something that really fascinated me and turned out to be more interesting than I could ever imagine,” he said. He conceived of a novel written in blog form, from the point of view of a survivor of an epic H5N1 outbreak—one that turns America into a “national Katrina.” Riots break out; Chinatown goes up in flames. It was Mad Max meets The Andromeda Strain. There’s a love story in there, too.

Then nothing happened. Hall didn’t get the book published.

Now, swine flu is all you seem to hear about in the news. “It became incumbent on me to meet the challenge of the real pandemic,” he told us.

But rather than wait to try to get something in print— which could take months at best#151;Hall decided to publish the book online in blog form, updating it to take swine flu into account, and really linking to all the sources his blogger uses.

And sell things.

See, the blogger-protagonist of American Fever is a capitalist. He wants to help people, but he also wants to profit, so he sells gloves, masks, and disinfectant. So Hall set up an Amazon store where readers can actually buy gloves, masks, and disinfectant, and Hall, of course, gets a cut. He also sells books and “cultural artifacts” that his blogger enjoys (music by Gene Clark, books about influenza), and, of course, gets a cut there, too.
Hall says that when the book is complete, he’ll publish it in print—but when will that be? “When I see a new story about something I wrote about on day five, I could [go back and] change my thinking about that story.” So the fictional story is evolving as real news events inform the plot. On the other hand, as Hall says himself, “The novel is so happy in an electronic form.”

Does the novel work as a novel? It’s not for us to say, but here’s what another reviewer wrote:

In many ways Hall’s work has a similar factual emphasis as Melville’s masterpiece. There is the whaling terms and the pages of nautical terms and definitions, all of which are mirrored exactly in reality as in the book. So it is with Hall’s inclusion of studies and pathology of our very real potential H1N1 flue epidemic. The difference, and one that is not necessarily a shocking realization, is that Hall’s fiction does not mean like Melville’s does. There is no sense of longing in his passages about the developing love story. There is nothing akin to the foreboding gloom of the sermon at the whaler’s chapel. Hall’s tragedy is born of exposition not allusion.

But as a distribution method, we’re intrigued. Yes, there have been books released serially online before. And yes, you could usually buy the printed version as a way to have one that hurts your eyes less than reading on a screen and sends a bit of cash the author’s way. But this we think is something new.

Hall doesn’t seem concerned with the way his work keeps the lights on. He says: “Yeah, I want to sell it. In America, your ‘score,’ sort of’ is whether people felt it was worth paying for. I’m very conscious of that. [But] I could also sell the movie rights. I could sell other novels I’ve written. I could sell a lot of copies of my movie, or I could sell a lot of masks and gloves. So I have pretty well set it up so if there is a profit to be made, I will.”

Read American Fever online here.