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Oct 13, 2010

Meet Amazing People Through Kindle Singles

Kindle Singles is not a dating service.

I know. Sorry.

But what is it? What does it mean for readers? For writers Is this a reprise of Amazon Shorts for the Kindle?

Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century--works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated--whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.

"Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format," said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. "With Kindle Singles, we're reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers and we're excited to see what they create."

Right now I know a lot of indie authors who have novellas up as ebooks for .99 cents. In the future, must these be categorized with the "singles"? How about serialized novels? (I'm thinking of doing this.)

But will it be open to indie authors? Or, like the Shorts, will they require some proof of having been past gatekeepers? And how many gatekeepers? I was able to publish through Amazon Shorts because I had sales to traditionally published anthologies.
To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact

Hm, that doesn't sound as though they want just anybody. Plus, Russ Grandinetti, the Vice President, Kindle Content, said "With Kindle Singles, we're reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers and we're excited to see what they create." [emphasis mine] In other words, self-published whack-jobs need not apply.

TechCrunch seems to think it will be open to all:

This new format is is important because Kindle Singles opens up a market for new authors. Singles gives bloggers and writers out there who don’t have time to write a book the opportunity to publish a pamphlet or shorter work. And it seems fairly easy for writer to publish these works. Amazon will work directly with publishers and writers to publish Kindle Singles. Amazon says that “Any rights holder can use the already popular Kindle Digital Text Platform (DTP) to self-publish work in the Kindle Store, and this include Kindle Singles.”

This makes sense if the real aim here is to do for journalists what CreateSpace has done for novelists.

If viewed through a magazine/newspaper lens, this could be the first step in letting journalists and writers produce their own work rather than having to be on staff or go through the tedious pitch process. While the press release did not discuss the business model, there is also the possibility that writers might even be able to earn more for their work by going straight to distribution and bypassing the publishers.

What I really noticed was what wasn't said. What price point does Amazon envision for these Singles? .99 cents? Less? The Shorts were .49 cents. Will Amazon bring that back? What about the possibility of micro-pricing? .25 cents? .10? .01? How about $200,000 (Zimbabwe) dollars? (About $0.0002 US dollars). I'm not sure what the point of that would be, of course. I just wanted to publicly mock Zimbabwe's currency.

The other number missing is what the split would be between the publisher/"accomplished writer" and Amazon. Right now Amazon offers a 30/70 split for ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Amazon is not price neutral; they make it clear that this is what they think is the right range for the price of an ebook. If a writer wants to offer a book for $1.99, for instance, because it is a novella, this means a drop from 70% royalties to a mere 35% and that stings. If you could offer that novella as a "Single" and earn 70% on a lower price, that would be sweet.

* * *

It's not much advantage to sell a novella for 10 cents. At least, I think you'd have to sell an awful lot of copies to make that worthwhile. But nonfiction? Basically, this is like directly monetizing a long blog post, or a single newspaper/magazine article. Something you could write in a few hours, or at most, a few weeks. It might be very much worth it to sell that for pennies per shot, if those pennies added up.

Let's play with some numbers:

Let's say you sell a Single for .20 and split it 50/50 so you make .10 cents a pop.

If you could sell one Single a week to 10,000 regular subscribers, that's $1000 a week. Not too shabby.

The price to the consumer: $10.40 for a year's worth of once-a-week content.

Ok, what if you can sell one Single a day, every working day, for a year -- about 260 Singles?

If you had 1,000 regular subscribers, that's $100 a day and $26,000 a year.

If you had 10,000 regular subscribers, that's $1000 a day and $260,000 a year.

Cost to the consumer: $52 a year.

F'kn brilliant.

Now, I'm sure some people will object with the usual, "But what about the mountains of crap!" As usual, the answer is simple. If it's crap, don't buy it.

Another possible objection is whether consumers will pay for this when they can just read blogs for free. Well, sure. But this is a bit of a longer of a read than a blog post. I think, as long as it's not terribly expensive, and the content is good, people will buy it.

All you out-of-work journalists who are presently employed by Demand Studios or Target...this could be for you!

* * *

What about fiction? Well, let's say my friends and I decided to get together and start our own novella and serialized novel publisher. Stories between 10,000-30,000 in length. I'm assuming it would be hard for any one writer to come up with that much content that fast, but a magazine with submissions, sure.

Apply the numbers above. Reduce by half to pay for overhead. (Reading slush for submissions, editing, advertising, etc.) Let's take the once-a-week scenario. $26,000 / 2 is $13,000 a year / 52 weeks, and the writer of an individual story can earn $250.

Not bad, though not great. But, here's the thing, the story can continue to earn royalties. Is it worth it to publish with a small publisher to get that initial list of 10,000 fans? Honestly, I don't know.

An alternative model would be that the writer sells only first rights, and after the story goes out to the list, rights revert back and the writer can continue to sell that story as an independent vendor on Amazon. In that case, I'd say it would be definitely worth the exposure for the writer to share 50% of the price with a publisher.

* * *

There's one other theory about the target audience:Academics.

Do you know who is going to love this? Academics, that’s who.

Which is exactly who Amazon is targeting with Kindle Singles....

“Serious writers, thinkers, scientists” and “historians” sure sounds like college professors to us, and the length of the Singles is about exactly what a serious academic journal article or research paper comes out to, isn’t it? Those articles certainly are “crafted to their natural length” more or less, and academic book publishers – unless the book is an edited selection of essays – don’t touch those kinds of article with a ten foot pole: they simply can’t sell them. In academic circles, however, journal articles are the meat in the college sandwich, and right now on the Kindle, these are mainly read as PDFs. However, give academics the opportunity to not only get their writings out to “readers around the world”, but also make some money (especially without having to give their cut to the publishers) in the process…they are going to line up to write Singles, and Amazon knows it.

That said, for right now, Amazon is playing nice with publishers by saying “we’re reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers” but that is just a nicety that Amazon has to do at this point. In the not-too-distant-future, we fully expect Amazon to open this up to many more people – especially hungry-to-get-published-academics. When those young, hip, professors and teaching assistants can point their students to their latest journal article/Kindle Single on, then we’ll start to see the real tipping point in academics towards ereading.

I hope to gd this is true. Really. I cannot tell you how many times in the last week, while trying to write an academic paper, I have come across papers hidden behind a ridiculous price wall. I have access to a university library; nonetheless, when I try to access an article for a journal which the library subscribes to I frequently encounter some blasted message telling me snidely that I can read the entire article for one day for a mere... $19.99.


For one article?

For one day?!


I shouldn't have to pay anything for that article, since, as I said, it should be in the library. But whatever. I would pay .99 cents or less to buy the article. (For all time, damn you, not a day. Sheesh.) But if I want to spend $20, I'd rather buy someone else's book on the same topic. So I won't be citing that article, sorry Journal of Antiquated Microbiology and Forensic Anthropology.

I wouldn't expect Singles to be a panacea to the many headaches of academic publishing. As nice as it would be as an academic to simply self-publish one's erudite brilliance, there's the problem of peer-review.

People might look down on self-published fiction authors, but money speaks louder than scorn. If novels sell, that's the only proof of success that matters in the end.

Academic writing is genuinely different. It's not just snobbery. (Though there is plenty of that.) Academic ideas are not supposed to gain acceptance just because they sell copy. (Though this happens more than academics would like to admit.) Ideas must be vetted by other authorities in the field.

Nobody is going to cite a self-published academic article, because that's the same as citing a popular magazine article with no peer review.

However, could peer reviewed journals sell through Kindle Singles? For, dare one hope, reasonable prices? That would be glorious.

* * *

Interesting times.


C. N. Nevets said...

I stopped reading once you said it wasn't a dating service.

C. N. Nevets said...

But, SRSLY. $19.99 for an article?

Davin Malasarn said...

I heard about Kindle Singles this morning, but I didn't sit around to find out what it was. Thanks so much for this, Tara! Maybe my novella has found a home.

Tara Maya said...

Nevets, apparently, $19.99 is the bargain price. I just encountered one that wanted $27.00!

Honestly, what goes through the brains of someone to do that? Who did market research on academics and decided they were all independently wealthy? And where I can I sign on to be one of those academics?

Tara Maya said...

Domey, that would be great! Well, I hope it will be great. I'd like to learn a bit more about the program first.

C. N. Nevets said...

I know what you mean, Tara. When I was in grad school, I was thrown into a panic when they wanted $5 to ILL me an article.

Jai Joshi said...

It just gets more and more complicated the longer it goes on. Someone's making money but I have a feeling it's not us.


C. N. Nevets said...

The young kids on the streets ain't the enemy

They're just ghetto youth after money

They sell drugs, but who sells drugs to them?

Try the C.I.A. my friend, or the F.B.I. or even Bush

Somebody's gettin rich, damn sure ain't us

Ice T

Tara Maya said...

Oh, dear, Nevets is on to my plan to warp the brains of ghetto kids by selling them literature.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Wow, thanks for this! I wouldn't have heard about Kindle Singles if it weren't for your post. I'm a bit confused as to everything it entails so it will be interesting to see how it unfolds as it gets going.