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4/11/2013
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British Bookseller To Launch 'Spotify For Books'

New subscription service lets British commuters download short fiction pieces by popular writers.

In a unique example of British innovation, the founder of the U.K.'s most successful bookstore chain is moving online to offer a new service described as 'Spotify for books.'

Read Petite is a new e-book service set to launch by the end of 2013 that will offer a range of short fiction formats such as short stories or chapters of serialized novels. It promises to offer "a rich reading experience for time-poor readers."

The entrepreneur behind the idea is Tim Waterstone, founder of Waterstones, the largest specialist European bookstore chain. Waterstone sold that company in 2001. He will serve as chair of the new company, and other founders all have extensive experience in the book trade or in the world of literary agents.

[ Could London become the next hotbed of tech innovation? Read London's New VC Fund For Tech Startups. ]

The businessman and author told The Daily Telegraph on Thursday he thinks this format will appeal to consumers, particularly commuters. "If you are going to read on a laptop, or a smartphone or a tablet, [a short story] is about as much as you want," he explained. "It worked for Dickens and it worked for us."

Waterstone's reference to Dickens is a very conscious one. In the 19th century, books were expensive, so popular Victorian novelists (including the creator of Little Dorrit) made their names -- and their fortunes -- in England by offering chunks of their ongoing creations to avid readers in monthly installments rather than finished volumes. Waterstone and his team believe the thirst for such bite-sized reading experiences can today be re-awakened in British commuters.

Waterstone says the service will also offer readers obscure or out-of-print works by established writers. The company's goal, however, will be to offer a new way for readers to experience short-format fiction. "This is not e-books, this is short form," said managing director Peter Cox, in an interview with trade site The Bookseller. "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 doesn't know what to do with them."

The service will kick off with monthly subscription charges from £5 ($8) to £12 ($19), comparable to the U.K. Spotify's rate of just under £10 ($15). In terms of technology, we are told that the platform is browser-based and will allow customers to read from their smartphones, e-readers or tablets.

Some observers say that the actual degree of innovation in Read Petite may be modest, as the premise sounds similar to U.S. forerunners like Atavist and Byliner.

And finally, sorry to dash your hopes, but the site's owners say they are not looking for fresh talent and plan to use material only from established writers, so you'll just have to self-publish that next Booker Prize winner the old-fashioned way.

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