Blog Post

Storytelling Is Stuck In A Rut–What Publishers Can Do About It

Upendra Shardanand is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Daylife, which helps publishers add content without additional staff or engineering. He also co-founded Firefly Network, a spinoff from his work at the MIT Media Lab, and sold the company to Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) in 1998. Upendra was the founding partner at the venture firm The Accelerator Group, and was the Director of Technology at Time Warner (NYSE: TWX).

On the subway one recent evening, I saw straphangers reading news articles printed off the web. This tells me two things:

1. The commuter

11 Responses to “Storytelling Is Stuck In A Rut–What Publishers Can Do About It”

  1. As a fiction writer who dabbles in transmedia, I have to say that one of the main bumps along the road is that developers/designers often doesn’t have any insights in what’s important for the writer. We need to accomodate for both the primary qualities of textual fiction (mono-media, one way communication, quiet, etc) and for the primary qualities of writing textual fiction. Writing fiction is a craft that is in many ways very different from content creation for other media than text. Not acknowledging that will slow down the process of reinventing books a lot.

  2. As a longtime journalist of mainstream business news outlets (Forbes, Businessweek, WSJ), the drill these days is soundbyte journalism–the shorter the better. I, for one, would greatly appreciate new tools to protect the age-old craft of storytelling, which as Mr. Shardanand has stated, need to be created.

  3. I may be prematurely optimistic, but I think the opportunity for investing in content's evolution is emerging.

    Media economic dynamics are about to make the massive shift from consumers paying for a commodity (e.g., access) to paying for content. Kindle is the first to include the price of wireless access to download the content in the content. Apple has announced it will do the same.

    The consumer has been spending whatever it takes for access, with the hope for better choices. When the dollars flow directly from the consumer to the content – buying decisions will be about quality of storytelling, relevance of content, a virtual "live" experience. Then the economics of investing in content worth paying for and marketing that content will be viable.

    katherine at

  4. having experimented with interactive multimedia, interactive storytelling, non-linear experiences and the like over the last decade, I find that text trumps everything else because it's the most efficient, simple and portable means of communication. Mr. Shardanand, you answered your own question when you described straphangers reading printouts of web content. Notwithstanding, when someone is inclined toward a more compelling experience, there are no simple, intuitive apps that allow writers or creators to build something without spending 6 months learning how to use it. And, in most cases, the existing apps force writers and designers into a creative straightjacket determined by a programmer with no sense of the user's needs.

  5. j morgan

    actually, amazon does resemble itself from 14 years ago in at least one way– its archaic shopping cart, in which multiple items cannot be manipulated (added/ deleted/moved) It's truly bizarre. And ask them about it and you get an auto-generated response that is maddening in its illogicSubstantial discounts and fast shipping keep me coming back, but alloting a half hour to create an order as I assemble a dozen items from within my wish lists, my save for later lists and the main pool of search results is a drag.

  6. Kevin

    The big publishers have been caught flat-footed. The dinosaur analogy is so over-used as to have lost all meaning, but it really does apply here. The consolidation of the newspaper industry created a few massive, slow-moving beasts that proved (and continue to prove) they were (and are) incapable of adapting to a new environment.

    Cutting expenses by dumping reporters and editors (for decades, remember) has just sped up their demise. Owners have been dumb, greedy, and increasingly desperate (a seemingly common problem in American business, eh?) Makes me mourn for journalism and society.

    Look for innovation from smaller, more nimble competitors. Sure, they may look like scampering little rodents now, but give them a bit of time.

    Doing my bit of one-man-band experimenting here:

    Bigger new media outfits (HuffPo, Bleacher Reports, NewsVine) have made strides, but still nowhere near filling the original, pro content gap. Patch is an interesting small player. Cash-strapped NPR is a great example that old media companies can be smart online.

    Still, will be a bumpy ride.

  7. Upendra, you are correct that Photoshop et al create a fast and inexpensive creative environment. Yes, I can pump out images dozens of times faster and better than I could with film and at nearly zero processing cost. But that is true of the hundreds of millions of people who take billions of shutter-clicks every day. The economic value of the resulting product must drive to zero even as the average quality must also fall. That drives the economic model of the professional photographer from one of selling his product to one of selling his time – and the competition there is tougher every day.

    So when you ask for better tools, what you really want is tools that enhance your creative productivity while providing stunning barriers to the masses. Those tools you must craft yourself. And you must keep them well-hidden if you wish to profit by them for even a little while.

  8. @ Mike D. Thanks Mike. You're right, not economical at all today. But the right tools could change that – just as advances in photoshop, CGI, music software, even word processing has allowed a single person to do in hours what formerly took several people days or weeks or months. And as the tools get more efficient, the storytelling should get more interesting. I hope!

  9. Good article. The reason storytelling hasn't changed — as online shopping has — is that it's not economical to do the sorts of things you're suggesting (which sound great, from a pure consumer perspective). If Amazon makes one simple technological or presentational advancement to their system, it affects millions of products and can lead to billions of incremental dollars in revenue (see: ). If a journalist goes from writing a traditional story in a day or two to spending weeks presenting the story as you're suggesting, you've just lost some important resources for awhile and you've only made a few extra dollars in increased page views and/or uniques. This is even true on a more granular level, forgetting about presentation and storytelling style. A quick wire-type article often monetizes just as well as a great investigative piece that took weeks to write.

    I think the fundamental problem is that the "quality" of articles (whether content, presentation, creativity, etc) is not necessarily aligned with how well those articles are monetizes. And even when it is, the economics *still* sometimes don't work out. The value of content is in sort of a race to the bottom at this point. Whoever can display the most of it the cheapest seems to be winning.

  10. Great articls.

    I'm not sure if the issue is better tools – but connecting the stories that are already being put out there by people using WordPress, a cheap digicam, and something to say.
    I think the kind of triple threats you are envisioning are pretty rare, and that placing publishers in the CMS r+d business would be a severe misallocation of resources at a time when the business can ill afford it.