The magazine writer has developed software that gives small publishers the chance to compete with moguls on tablets and smartphones
New York City's borough of Brooklyn has become a hot spot for artisanal crazes, including beer brewing and pickling. Now, Brooklyn is set to give rise to the ultimate in 2011 bespoke craftsmanship: artisanal iPad publishing.
On Jan. 26, Evan Ratliff, a 35-year-old magazine writer, will launch The Atavist, a boutique publishing venture that will sell original, long-form nonfiction stories exclusively on smartphones and tablets. Ratliff will commission and edit the stories, which will be longer than typical magazine features and shorter than most books. Readers will be able to download the Atavist app for free and purchase individual stories for $2.99 on iPhones and iPads, or pay $1.99 for a Kindle version. Writers will earn a flat fee for each story plus a percentage of every copy sold.
The logistics of publishing on tablets and smartphones with different screen sizes and operating systems is a major challenge, says Ratliff, the son of a logistics professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. The Atavist has built a content management system, dubbed Periodic Technology, that allows editors to build multimedia narratives, design layouts, and then, with one step, publish across multiple platforms. It currently formats content for iPhones, iPads, and Kindles, and will soon serve Android devices as well.
To date, tablet-only publishing has been the playground of the rich; billionaires Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson are launching tablet ventures. Ratliff plans to license his technology and lower the barrier to entry for small publishers. He hasn't set the license fee yet but says it will be cheaper for indie publishers than creating an app from scratch. "This is a very easy way for small publishers to start doing this," says Ratliff. "You don't have to have millions of dollars."
"Right now everyone is starting from scratch and has to solve the same problems over and over again," says Robin Sloan, a Twitter employee who is writing a novel. "It's a waste of everybody's effort. The fact that they are thinking about the platform behind it distinguishes them from other folks. We desperately need tools."
Ratliff created The Atavist with Nicholas Thompson, a senior editor at The New Yorker, and Jefferson Rabb, a programmer and Web designer. The idea originated in the fall of 2009. Ratliff had just written a multimedia series for Wired about the challenge of shedding your identity in the Digital Age. The series documented his efforts to disappear and the effort by Wired readers to find him and claim a $5,000 reward. Afterward, Ratliff and Thompson, then his editor at Wired, met for a drink. The iPad was just a rumor, but both writers were already excited by the possibilities for multimedia storytelling, says Ratliff. "If you create something that a lot of people like, it costs almost nothing to deliver it to a potentially huge group of people."
Tried to shed his identity for a popular Wired article.
Getting device users to pay for long-form nonfiction
Software that formats articles for several gadgets at once