Best-selling authors Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear are looking back to the future. This month, they launched a story —The Mongoliad— using a 175-year-old publishing model. Their novel-as-app (or app-as-novel) is coming out in weekly, serial segments, complete with cliffhanger endings and a cheap subscription rate.
Literary luminaries such as Charles Dickens (The Pickwick Papers), Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo) and Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina) published some of their most popular works in the serial format in the 19th century.
Today, instead of reading serialized stories in magazines, readers will pay $5.99 at mongoliad.com for a six-month app that gets them a chapter a week zapped to their smart phone, iPad or computer. The creators hope to have the book available at the iTunes store in the near future.
Stephenson and Bear, along with a group of other writers, illustrators and martial artists, have embarked on a historical tale, set in 1241, about a roving band of misfits that ends up helping to beat back the Mongol hordes intent on taking Europe. The story, up to four chapters in its first month, promises to be swashbuckling enough to keep a reader's interest but intricate enough to satisfy the duo's usual readers of their historic and science fiction. It's planned to last for one year, at which point a second "volume" will begin and — gasp — the first one may even be published as a print book.
The business model is akin to the "just in time" idea behind inventory. "We're aiming for a more agile, real-time product, in which we cheaply produce small amounts of material and make it available at a very reasonable price and avoid having to take the big risks," Stephenson says.
Extras add value: A mini-encyclopedia provides links throughout the story to research and background on the period, the characters and medieval sword fighting techniques. There are even videos of fight scenes choreographed by martial artists.
About 15 people are involved in the project, including an animator, seven writers, some researchers, a videographer and a fight choreographer for the sword fights. "They'll all be paid if it starts making money," Bear says.
This is awesome, great writers trying something interesting, tying in multimedia when needed. Given the length of Anatham and the Baroque Cycle who knows when this will actually end. The idea of "extras" on a serialized venture is also very interesting. One to watch and subscribe to if the adventures of the last stand of warriors battling against the Mongolian Hordes and the efforts of some really smart people interest you. Since it was partly due to Diamond Age, that I'm in this field, I'm subscribing.