Amazon launched their new Kindle Singles line with the usual series of email blasts and banners on amazon.com recently. There appear to be 20 or so Singles products so far but I'm sure many more are in the works. Amazon says Singles are "compelling ideas expressed at their natural length." My interpretation of that is, "most traditional books are bloated works, puffed up to either achieve a specific spine width or price point a publisher has in mind."
A Singles product isn't tied to spine width because Singles only exist in the e-world, a place where spines have no meaning. I love the concept and blogged about it last year (see the Just Long Enough section of this eContent wish list post). But I also believe Amazon has one critical aspect of Singles all wrong: pricing.
The first Singles product I bought was The Business of Media, by Larry Dignan. Before I go any further I want to encourage you to by Dignan's Single right now. It's one of the most thought-provoking works on media/publishing that I've read in a long time. It's only $2.99...and that's the problem.
Amazon apparently believes shorter equals cheaper. Wrong! When I read The Business of Media the other night I realized three dollars got me a condensed version of what I'd normally pay at least $9.99 for (as a Kindle book) and more like $20+ (as a print book). The author could very easily have bulked this up to 5 or 6 times the length of the Single. All he had to do was add more stories, background, etc., and he would have had a 300-page book. I'm so glad he didn't.
It took me about an hour to read The Business of Media and I'm a slow reader. I could have done it in less time but I found myself highlighting and making so many notes in it. The Single consists of 12 chapters, many of which only take up about 2 or 3 screens in my Kindle iPad app (although your mileage may vary depending on your app settings). One hour. I would have gladly paid $9.99 for this one. Not only was the content excellent but the service saved me several hours of reading time since it was in the short format, not the long, old-fashioned one.
I realize Amazon wants to cast a wide net by pricing Singles from $.99 to $2.99 but they're doing their partners (authors and publishers) a huge disservice. I'm a well-known, card-carrying cheapskate and even I've gotten more relaxed about spending more than $9.99 on ebooks, so let the natural forces drive prices to the correct levels. And by all means, don't assume shorter equals cheaper. In this case, brevity is a key product attribute, so don't be afraid to let it drive a price up rather than down.
If the results on this one are what I can come to expect from Singles I'll definitely be spending a lot of money on them. But I also want to encourage Amazon and their authors to think more "digital-first" (or "digital-exclusive") on these.
My only gripe about The Business of Media is that it felt like something that was written for print, not digital. For example, something as simple as embedded hyperlinks were few and far between. There were some, but the content lends itself to many, many more.
And here's another plea for Amazon to add pop-up window functionality to its reader app. When I click on a link don't close the reader and open the browser; just open a frame on the screen with a browser so I can keep everything in context.
When I reached the end of The Business of Media I wanted to know what's next. I thoroughly enjoyed the author's work so where can I go for more? Where can I buy a follow-on product? A bunch of one-off's like this is a missed opportunity. Show me a family of related products that keep me coming back. Also, this Single covers a very dynamic, ever-changing subject. The content is up-to-date in early 2011 but how should it change in 3 months? 6 months? Longer? Here's an opportunity for Amazon to either make updates part of the original product (and charge more) or sell quick revisions.
Singles is a good idea but I hope Amazon takes the time to develop it into something more than just shorter pieces of content.
P.S. -- I know Amazon is trying to play off the album single, but why does "Kindle Singles" always make me think of "Kraft Singles"?