We’ve had Facebook and eBooks, now here’s an m-book.
In this case, m-book stands for mobile book, but it could also stand for Marieke’s book. You might know Marieke Hardy as part of the breakfast show trio on Triple J, as writer of columns in The Age’s Green Guide, as Ms Fits on her blog Reasons You Will Hate Me (now on indefinite hiatus), or as the regular on First Tuesday Book Club who’s not Jason Steger or Jennifer Byrne. Among other things, she also writes for television and even wrote a few episodes of Neighbours, but I won’t hold that against her. I think she’s great, and she’s something a book nerd crush for me, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend. A number of other people I know have disagreed vehemently with my glowing opinion of her, so she definitely divides people.
In any case, I’m a fan, so I was definitely curious when I read about her new project. She’s writing a story called Vigilante Virgin for The Age, about a socially inept woman who tries to jumpstart her life by joining up with a bunch of community activists. So, this story is something you sign up for on your phone, hence the m-book. If all goes to plan, you send a text to them and then you get sent a message every morning at 7 AM. Simple, right? But the message you get isn’t the story segment. It’s a link to a website containing the story segment that you can read on your phone if your phone is internet-enabled.
But there’s more. I was curious enough to buy into it, if only for a day and for the sake of an experiment. But apparently if you’re on 3Mobile like me, you can’t view it. I found this out when every time I tried to subscribe, I got an error message. So I gave up.
And yet, when the story launched on the morning of October 12, I somehow received two messages containing the link. For whatever reason, these also would not view on my phone! However, as I soon found out (through the utilisation of l33t $killz) it is entirely possible to just type the link into your computer’s internet browser, unsubscribe on your phone and continue reading on your computer for free. The link remains the same every day, and you can look into the archives for every previous segment.
If it wasn’t already clear enough, there’s no reason for anyone to keep subscribing, other than a sense of loyalty to Marieke or The Age. Or maybe a devotion to Borders, with their ad running at the base of the story every day. One could subscribe on the second last day and, with that link, read the entire archive for a fraction of the amount paid by a loyal subscriber. So basically, The Age is doing it wrong.
Maybe it would be better if the story instalments were simply received as text messages daily. This way, anyone with even the most basic phone could receive the story segments and easily store them to read later. Then it would truly feel like an m-book. Sure, maybe then people would just forward the story to their friends, starving The Age of subscription revenue, or maybe it would work as free publicity, encouraging some friends to take up a subscription of their own. Or maybe by designing a story service with greater interactivity, more people would get interested and involved. Each person could be given an individual log-in as an incentive to participate in the conversation, and maybe have the chance to vote via SMS to influence the progression of the story. An en-masse mobile-phone choose-your-own-adventure story. Now that would be a cool way to really embrace the medium.
As it is, the subscription should be much cheaper. Right now, a full-paying subscriber pays 55c a day for 20 days, plus the sign-up SMS of 25c. So at roughly 350 words a day, you’re paying a total of $11.25 for a 7000-word short story, not a book.
Still, keeping up with a serialised short story is always fun. I’d be almost glad to pay for more things like this in the future, if the price was much more reasonable and if things worked a bit better.
As for the story itself, it’s good so far. Definitely has a touch of Marieke’s distinct sardonic wit and some evocative descriptions. So far, it’s been more about character, mood and humour, rather than a barrelling plot progression. Still, it’s going to interesting places and I’m definitely keen to see where Judy, the sausage-roll-shaped protagonist, is plonked by the story’s end. Maybe I’ll provide a summary of my thoughts once the story has reached its conclusion. George Dunford at Hackpacker is planning to the same, and he’s already shared his thoughts so far, much of which I agree with. Adam Ford blogged a little about it too, but isn’t keen enough to subscribe. He also points out a number of others who have been doing serialised online works before this. Gullybogan, meanwhile, is rather cynical about the whole thing.
Anyway, if you’re interested, The Age put up an edited version of the first week’s instalments. It’s a good representative sample. But I wonder if people who already paid for the first week felt betrayed and then unsubscribed? And maybe the story will come out later in another form. Who knows? It’s up to chapter 15 and only has another 5 weekdays left, I believe. I’ll keep reading for free on my computer (so…then it’s a c-book?) until the end and look with interest for whatever The Age and Marieke are doing next. I wonder if they’ll decide to take this sort of thing any further.
For all its faults, I hold Marieke in no disrepute. This is mostly The Age’s experiment. The story itself is solid, she’s the writer, and her writing and coquettish ways will remain delightfully compelling to me, no matter what my girlfriend or anyone else says, dagnabbit!