Reading on mobile devices: Jim Hinks interview

Reading mobile devices

This is a guest interview with Jim Hinks. Jim is an editor at Comma Press, the Manchester-based independent publisher specialising in short fiction. He is also speaker at BookMachine Brighton on Wednesday 10th June.

1 Do you read books on mobile devices?

Yes, a lot. I’m particularly partial to listening to literature, be that audiobooks, radio, or podcasts (like the New Yorker Fiction Podcast). Like most people, I have a regular commute, so that’s almost 2 hours per day. Before I had a smartphone, I listened to audiobooks on an iPod. Before that, a mini-disk player. Before that, tapes (!). I had a tape of Simon Armitage reading ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ (selected poems) that I pretty much wore out on an Aiwa personal cassette player. I love the feeling of being read to; the immediacy and intimacy.

2 How do you think mobiles are impacting reading generally?

Hmm. I think capital-L Literature has inadvertently found itself at war with the Internet, if that doesn’t sound too hyperbolic (!). There’s just so much stuff – social media, youtube, netflix, and the rest – vying for our attention. I don’t think Literature should lie down and die in the face of this. I’d hate it if reading novels, poems or short stories was reduced to some kind of niche, off-the-grid, hipster activity, like collecting vinyl, but that’s what we risk unless we find ways to make Literature work on the Internet (and on mobile devices).

3 In your opinion, which apps and sites facilitate mobile reading well?

Depends what device you’re on. All the big players do it well, and I have a few dedicated short story and poetry apps (mostly featuring public-domain content). The Poetry Foundation’s app is a thing of beauty, and worth a few minutes of anyone’s time. I’m duty-bound to also recommend LitNav, a micro-budget short story app we built at Comma a few years ago: you can select short stories to match the length of your own journey.

4 Do you think there is a stigma towards short stories in the literary publishing world?

Yes. Let’s say you have a natural-born short story writer who wins a short story competition. An agent picks her up and persuades her to write a novel, because that’s what publishers want. Publishers might admit to liking short stories but say the problem lies with booksellers not knowing how to sell them (or even where to shelve them). Booksellers say it’s a problem with readers. Many readers say they like short stories and wish more authors would write them – bit of a vicious circle.
Having said that, it’s also true that a lot of readers don’t like short stories, because good ones demand concentration, and interaction, and then must be absorbed by the reader – composted, or percolated – until they reveal their meanings. I certainly don’t buy the argument that short stories are better suited to our fast-paced modern lives, and I think the popularity of the big fantasy novel shows that many readers prefer immersive fictive worlds they can dip in and out of (or escape into?). Plus, there’s the simple fact that, lacking a central narrative hook, short story collections are harder to pitch and blurb and review.

5 Could we please have a clue as to what you might talk about at BookMachine Brighton on 10th June?

I’ll be speaking about our experience of building MacGuffin – a self-publishing website and app for fiction and poetry in text and audio form, which is released at the end of June. It’s quite rare for a small independent publishing house to try something this ambitious (we are lucky recipients of a grant from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts), and we’ve had to learn a lot about collaborating with tech partners. I’ll be sharing some of the things we’ve learned along the way (including things we’d do differently), and I hope it’ll be useful to any publisher who’s thinking about embarking on their own tech project.

Meet Jim at BookMachine Brighton

Limited tickets also available here for BookMachine Cambridge, London, Oxford and Barcelona.

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