Shorts, Woes & Mysteries

This week kicked my butt. Fortunately the workaday portion is over and an old Aikido training buddy found and passed on a few interesting bits, including an item about creating an iTunes-like service to sell short stories.

Since he is too shy to take a bow by name, let me thank MysteryGuy for pointing me to a news article about a service that will let readers download shorts for 49 cents.

“Amazon Shorts will help authors find new readers and help readers find and discover authors they’ll love,” said Steve Kessel,’s vice president of digital media. “We hope that by making short-form literature widely and easily available, can help to fuel a revival of this kind of work.”

I looked for but could not find information on how authors could get shorts listed with Amazon. (They may have a plethora of short printed material broken out of the works of established authors.) However, its publisher’s guide site does seem to be soliciting audio shorts. Interesting.

MysteryGuy also pointed me to the journalists at Technology Research News, who run a clean, info-packed site, yet lament that they have been:

“publishing original news stories for over five years, but … have yet to find a way to cover our costs. We are fairly popular and well-woven into the fabric of the Web; we have over 200,000 unique visitors per month, we are well represented in Google, Yahoo and MSN search results, and we are regularly slashdotted and pointed to by Wired News, other media sites and countless weblogs.”

The excerpt continues:

“We make money by selling subscriptions to a PDF edition, selling white-paper-like reports through our site and resellers, supplying other media sites with our content through a newswire, selling subscriptions to an off-line electronic edition through a reseller, collecting fees from Lexus Nexis and other online databases, and carrying Google’s Adsense advertisements. Most recently we have begun a PBS-like fund drive. That’s a lot of revenue streams, but they don’t add up to enough. Our costs are modest: two full-time editors, one contributing editor and two part-time staffers.”

Sobering thoughts for anyone who aspires to make online publishing into a day job. I’m still searching for a self-supporting business model. Toward that end I took a long walk last night with my friend Tom Foremski, the former Financial Times reporter turned blogger at We hiked around San Francisco’s Presidio and caught the sunset over Alcatraz.

We talked about some of the same business ideas as the Tech Research folks, and so their admissions are all the more meaningful. Shy of giving away all the particulars on which Tom and I might collaborate, our sense is that free information published over the web must be the lure to money-capturing enterprises such as consulting or compilations — monthlies or quarterlies — that package information already gathered. Packaging, Tom says, is the key. To which I would add, convenience, especially for information aimed at busy professionals. And that suggests audio delivery of capsule info. (Note that Amazon will accept such for its audio shorts program but not print shorts. A market signal?)

Tech Research News seems to have tried some of these tactics. How come they aren’t working? Are there simple fixes to boost revenues? Publishers need to share tips and tricks. Add that to the to-do list: find or build such sites. Thanks, MysteryGuy!

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media