Friday, January 28, 2011

Kindle Singles – News/Commentary - 01/28/2011

Wednesday morning Amazon began releasing what they are calling “Kindle Singles.” The description they give is, “Each Kindle Single presents a compelling idea--well researched, well argued, and well illustrated--expressed at its natural length.” Prices for the initial batch ranged from $0.99 to $2.99.

I’ll admit, my initial impression was, “so what.” What’s the big deal? Why the big announcement? Countless authors have published short stories, novellas, and other short fiction that is available in the Kindle store. Among the venues Amazon announced this was a thread in the Amazon Kindle Forum. The reaction among the group who responded was mixed, but seemed weighted toward those who saw this as inconsequential or thought the Kindle Singles were overpriced.

After digging a little deeper and considering the ramifications I’ve changed my opinion slightly. It’s true that fiction of all lengths is already available in the Amazon store. However, these new “singles” appear heavily weighted toward non-fiction. Almost all those I checked are non-fiction on a variety of subjects. Memoir, true crime, what might be termed investigative reporting, business, politics, and science are included in the initial offering. The length is included in the listing for each with those I checked ranging from 18 to 58 pages.
Amazon's press release indicates that their target size is 5,000 to 50,000 words, a size that falls in between that of a large magazine article and a small book.

The Positives

I see this as a positive for a few reasons. As the announcement says, any essay, article, paper, or whatever you want to call it has a “natural length.” This move by Amazon showcases one of the advantages of the Kindle that thus far has not been emphasized or, with the exception of fictional short stories, been taken advantage of by many. A book, essay, or article can be “its natural length” without the problems inherent in physical distribution. A short piece does not have to be published as a magazine article or part of an anthology. A book that should be 30,000 words doesn’t have to be artificially expanded into a book.

Other than size, what it takes to become a Kindle Single is still unclear. It appears there is some kind of vetting process. However, I can envision this inspiring indie non-fiction authors to see the potential of publishing directly to the Kindle. There was nothing preventing this before, however, many potential authors still think in terms of the requirements of the paper book world. By thinking outside of the box, Amazon may inspire others to do the same.


On the subject of pricing, the basic rules of economics still apply. The appropriate cost of a novel in eBook form has been hotly debated in many venues. Eventually the market will decide. However, most people in those debates acknowledge that non-fiction is different because in many cases these works require a disproportionate investment of time and other resources to research and produce than fiction. Those who compare these shorts to a magazine cover story, what some of them could have been with a little cutting, and believe this should somehow reflect consumer cost aren’t taking into account the effect of advertising revenue in the economics of the magazine publishing business. In the end, the market will determine the appropriate price. I’ve had several authors who have told me they are happy with their sales volume of short stories, priced at Amazon’s minimum price of $0.99, so I expect there might be enough readers who see these Singles as a good value to satisfy potential authors.


Time will tell how well this works, however the more I consider it the more I see this as a positive development for all parties, Amazon, publishers, authors, and us, the reader. In the next week or so I’ll have reviews of four of these Kindle Singles. In the meantime, you can also check out
this article by the author of one of the Kindle Singles with his thoughts on the experience.

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