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An Arm and a Leg: The Future of Sportswriting for a Mere 99 Cents

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Emma Span's "An Arm and a Leg," a new ebook single, is a brief primer on the awesomeness of Jose Reyes, and the difficult position in which the Mets' front office now finds itself. Neither of these observations will come as news to the average Mets fan; our eyes convinced us of the former a long time ago, and the latter has been repeated by the media ad infinitum all season. Nonetheless, this work is worthy of your time and dough for a multitude of reasons, mainly because it may be the future of sportswriting.

For one thing, Span does an excellent job of balancing cold, hard stats and more ephemeral evidence. The raw numbers--both traditional and new fangled--show that Reyes is closer to human than you might suspect. At the same time, she recognizes that Reyes' appeal and value extend far beyond those raw numbers, that there are few things better in the game of baseball than watching him run out a triple. She also concedes the possibility that his performance thus far this year might not be an anomaly or a walk-year-induced spike, but the sign of a player finally coming into his own. The question, of course, is whether the Mets want to--or are even able to--bet on that outcome.

Again, this is nothing earth-shattering to anyone reading this. We've been treated to similar pieces in more conventional media all year. Fortunately, Span writes better than most, weaving together organic fan reaction, newspaper accounts, and her own keen observations. She thankfully recognizes that the typical Mets fan cares to hear Reyes compared to Derek Jeter as much as a shot in the head. Best of all, her treatment of the subject lacks the despair and woe-is-me-ism you often read whenever the subject of Reyes is broached.

Her economical account of Reyes' career, the season he's enjoying, and the Mets' simultaneous woes (financial and otherwise) is essential reading, even if you haven't been living under a rock all year. There is a genuine story here, told by a gifted storyteller. It's hard to write more about "An Arm and a Leg" than this without revealing everything about so brief a piece, including the conclusion Span draws on The Reyes Question. Suffice to say, it is well worth the reasonable price of 99 cents.

Which brings me to my main point. I'm just as impressed with the format as I am with the prose. "An Arm and a Leg" is a thoroughly time sensitive document; once the season ends and Reyes contract negotiations commence, it will cease to hold the same meaning or urgency as it does now. However, this may be the ideal document for a single (publishing industry speak for a digital publication the length of a book chapter or magazine article): a brief but compelling article on one current events topicm, sold for very little but still not given away for free.

There is an expectation on the Internet in general that entertainment should flow freely and abundantly for absolutely no money at all. Whether its music or film or prose or even news, an entire generation has been conditioned to the idea that all of these things should simply land in our laps with no thought to compensating the creators. Sportswriting is squarely in this camp, as there are many great writers on the internet but only so many paying gigs (and even fewer that pay enough to live on). Grantland is the latest attempt to gather together a stable of quality sports/pop culture/Teen Wolf referencing writers. The Sports Guy's foibles notwithstanding, I wish Grantland well merely because no other site out there seems to want to pay for content (hi, Huffington Post), and not everything I've read there makes me want to pull my hair out. But if history is any indication, web ad revenue only goes so far, and I wonder how long such an ambitious endeavor can last, even with ESPN money behind it.

There is, however, one notable exception to the No Paying for Content principle. The explosion of the Kindle and other ebook devices shows that people who once paid for print books and magazines will pay to read their new digital equivalents. From an economic standpoint, ebooks cost virtually nothing to produce, do not require constant maintenance like web sites, are endlessly renewable, and rely on nothing but their own sales (rather than the fickle world of ad revenue) to generate returns.

That's why I believe efforts such as Span's--exclusive to digital platforms, sold for nominal prices, easily readable in one commute or trip to the gym--have a genuine chance to succeed. If they do, it may inspire other authors to do similar one-shot micro-pieces, and so doing, solve another conundrum on the level of what to do about Jose Reyes: In the digital age, how do we make sure great writers can get paid for their efforts?

The answer may be to purchase ebooks like "An Arm and a Leg." If you're reading this, I'm assuming 99 cents won't kill you, and that you have some device on which you can read it (your phone, for instance). Atone for your pirating pasts and buy it, ya cheapskates.