Playing the long-(form) game

“Tell me a story!”

Come bedtimes across the land, children plead with adults to be read a story. But why should this request be confined to night-time rituals for little ears? There’s nothing better than letting a story unwind and unfold itself around you, whatever your age.

Last week, we announced Mosaic, a new digital publication dedicated to in-depth coverage of biology and medicine. The heart of Mosaic is long-form. While “long-form” refers to the length of an article, it means a lot more than just a long read. It’s about the freedom to explore the twists and turns of a story, to really dig into a topic and bring the issues to life.

We want to write articles and make films that are so engrossing you have to take a second to readjust to the world around you when you’ve finished them. We want to tell the stories you haven’t read elsewhere. Long-form will give us the scope to do that.

How long is long?

Just like a piece of string, long-form articles vary in length. In some publications, long-form articles are 1000 to 1500 words, in others they’re 20,000 words. Publishers like The Atavist are taking long-form even longer, by creating “longform nonfiction between magazine-article and book length”.

For us at Mosaic, long-form means around 3000 to 6000 words, although we are not working to immoveable limits. We’ll let the story determine the right length.

Who else is doing it?

Long-form isn’t new. Some publications, including The New YorkerThe Atlantic and
Ars Technica, have been publishing it for years. It is growing in popularity, and publishers specialising in telling longer stories are on the rise. Several with a science focus have launched over the last 18 months, including MatterAeon and Nautilus.

And as long-form is becoming more and more popular, sites like The BrowserLongform.org and Longreads that curate long stories have also proliferated.

Making long-form work 

I’ve been a long-form fan for a while. It might have something to do with being one of the apparent 1.84 million Britons who commute for three hours a day. It suits me to read several stories on my journey. I can go direct to a publisher or to one of the curation sites, choose a story and read. Even if I don't get a seat.

We understand that people want to read stories at different times, in different places and on different devices. Mosaic will be a mobile-first publication designed to work as simply and easily on a smartphone or tablet as on a desktop. This means that you should be able to view our content however you like, wherever you are.

In our Mosaic editorial meetings, we've been discussing what's special about long-form. Barry J Gibb, a filmmaker and member of the Mosaic editorial team, describes the contrast between short films and longer films as the difference between looking out of a window to enjoy the view and pulling on your walking boots and going on a hike. So, it’s time to lace up – are you with us?

Chrissie Giles

Chrissie is a Senior Editor at the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Mosaic editorial team