By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated April 10, 2014.
The parent of open source publishing platform WordPress, Automattic, has purchased storytelling service Longreads. The service is designed for reading stories that are at least 1500 words long, with an orientation toward consumption on mobile devices.
In a post on the WordPress blog, Raanan Bar-Cohen, Automattic's senior vice president, said that "there has been a growing hunger for longform content" as smartphones and tablets have increasingly become instruments for consumption. He noted that social media is driving readers to Longreads, as noted by the 130 percent growth in the use of the #longreads hashtag over the last two years.
Terms of the acquisition were not made public. "The world cannot live on 140 characters alone," Automattic chief executive Matthew Mullenweg told Bloomberg Businessweek after the acquisition was announced.
Why would WordPress be interested in a community based on longform stories? Bar-Cohen noted that his organization is "committed to empowering" independent writers and publishing not only through tools and services but also "through community, distribution, and new ways to have your best work seen by millions of people across a wide range of diverse tastes and topics."
The Oakland, California-based Longreads, started in 2009, has a six-person team to find and select the best of fiction and journalism on the Web from both known and unknown writers.
On the Longreads blog, founder Mark Armstong said Wednesday that "Longreads' goals and Automattic's goals were complementary." Longreads' goal is to "serve readers the best storytelling in the world," he said, while Automattic's is "to power a world where publishers and writers have the freedom and independence to own and control their own space on the Internet," using appropriate tools.
Armstrong promised that Longreads would continue the service as it has been. Membership, including exclusive stories and access to the full site, is $3 monthly. The company said it has about half a million followers on the site and on its Facebook and Twitter accounts, although the size of the current membership has not been made public. The Longreads editorial team will become part of the Automattic editorial team.
Longform Web Publishing
Although shortened attention spans have reportedly been a product of tweets and Web sites intended for scanning, longform content has gotten a foothold on the Web. Longreads, and similar story sites like Longform and the sports and pop culture site Grantland, complement the extended narrative storytelling on many journalistic-oriented sites, like Salon or Politico.
In January, the New York Times ran a story about longform Web publishing. While it acknowledged there is "a lot of excellent magazine-length journalism being done now," it noted that "long-form stories are too often celebrated simply because they exist."
The observation was made in the context of a recent, controversial longform story, "Dr. V's Magical Putter," that ran on Grantland earlier this year. Over several thousand words, it told of the quest by the writer to find a woman named Essay Anne Vanderbilt, who claimed to have invented a super-golf putter.
But the story mostly focused on the writer's rocky relationship with the quirky subject, whose suicide was not revealed until the story's end. The controversy related to whether the author's relationship with the subject was a factor in the suicide.