A new venture to offer digital short stories and long-form journalism to readers through a subscription package will launch this autumn, with Tim Waterstone as its non-executive chairman.
Read Petite is founded by agent Peter Cox and consultant Martyn Daniels, who will be joint managing directors of the new business. Former editor of The Bookseller Neill Denny has joined as its chief operating officer. All four are directors of the business, with initial investment said to be "substantial".
The online platform will be ready to launch in autumn, with publishers able to self-load content on to the service. The platform is browser-based and will allow customers to read across any device from mobile phone, e-reader to tablet.
Cox, founder of Redhammer and the Litopia author site, told The Bookseller that the idea was to expand the market for different types of content. "We are genuinely trying to expand the reading market, and bring publishers together under our aegis to do something new. Up until now short-form writing has not really been economic to produce, but we think we can unleash it." Cox said the site wouldn't accept direct submissions, but could move into commissioning short stories or long-form journalism.
Daniels added: "This is not e-books, this is short form. We seem to have lost the opportunity to read authors' work in short form and we want to bring it back. It is surprising when you ask authors how many short stories they have and the publisher doesn¹t know what to do with them."
The company has not yet announced the price of the subscription, but said it was working on detailed market research to finalise the details. Daniels said the business was targeting people in the 35-55 age range with little time on their hands but with an appetite to read.
Read Petite is in the process of talking to publishers about the venture, including major publishers, who have been shown "a detailed business plan". Daniels said: "The feedback has been very positive so far and they say they have all got the material. There are risks and hurdles and a lot to do between now and when it launched to consumers but we are confident in the business plan." Cox said no publisher approached has said they do not wish to be involved, and that the company had had "verbal commitments from several large publishers".
Waterstone said the service would be curated to a high standard. He told the Guardian: "The individual short story, or whatever it is, may not have been published, but the author will be an established, published writer. The whole point is to avoid a slush pile of material. What we'll guarantee is quality writing."
In a wide-ranging interview, Waterstone told the Guardian he was confident the bookselling chain he founded was now in good hands after the HMV Group sold it to Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut. He said it was "in proper ownership, with a very, very good business plan". He added Mamut was "a very cultured, literary figure". While the chain was under HMV ownership, Waterstone said he "couldn't sleep at night" as it was being "badly run, and going backwards". He said: "It was just agony to me. I felt HMV were screwing it up, and I couldn't stand it. Every time I walked to the tube station, past that shop, I could hardly bear to look in the window."
Waterstone also mentioned he was in the process of writing two short novels. He has already had four books published.