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London - There are many ways for people to register their disapproval of something you've written and posted online, from a simple thumbs-down to a sustained campaign of harassment culminating in the imposition of a restraining order.
But the most withering are those replies that simply read “TLDR” - or “too long, didn't read”. It's become shorthand for our supposed intolerance for writing that extends beyond bullet points, an affirmation that lengthy tracts of prose belong to a pre-internet era. But maybe this is all a fallacy.
Traditionally, online publishers have indulged the notion that we have fish-like attention spans, because their ad-funded models need feeding with briskly refreshed, cheaply produced content that keeps those hit counters ticking. But last week, the website Buzzfeed - known primarily for aggregating bite-sized content that's heavy on cat antics and cheap “lulz” - appointed former Spin editor Steve Kandell to oversee its foray into longform journalism.
While a number of worthy projects such as Byliner and Atavist have, over the past couple of years, nurtured longform journalism by offering articles for a couple of dollars each, this appointment is different; it's an admission that absorbing, lengthy reads not only bring in readers, but entice advertisers too. Has the “race to the bottom” for online content turned a crucial corner?
“We're certainly seeing a correction,” says Bobbie Johnson, co-founder of Matter, a longform journalism project that launched yesterday at readmatter.com.
“It's clear that the amount of effort you put in [to writing an article] can be related to the value that emerges at the other end.” Matter's first story, “Do Not Harm”, an absorbing 8,000-word piece by Anil Ananthaswarmy about the tragic story of people who feel compelled to amputate their own limbs, is available to read online or as an e-book for $0.99, while the 2,500 supporters who funded the project earlier this year via Kickstarter get it for free.
“We surprised ourselves,” says Johnson, referring to their funding goal of $50,000 being raised in two days and eventually exceeded by nearly 200 percent. “But there does seem to be a window at the moment where all the pieces are aligned to make this kind of thing possible. The arrival of [reading] apps, the popularity of e-books, the ease of delivery and payment - and the ability to build a community.”
The complaints made by Matter in its pitch to investors - that many websites think that we're dumb, prioritise advertising and treat press releases as if they were news - won't suddenly be resolved by Matter's launch, or indeed the changes afoot at Buzzfeed. But the “correction” that Johnson refers to does seem to be gathering pace, while putting to bed one of the most common misconceptions about our online reading habits. “It's been proven to be wrong,” says Johnson. “It's an argument that doesn't really need to be made any more.” - The Independent