Kindle Singles Could Be So Much More
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"?
"Amazon apparently believes shorter equals cheaper. Wrong!" I suspect that Amazon believes that its customers believe that shorter should equal cheaper, and that Amazon is correct. I see and agree with the argument that there is value in brevity.
I cannot resist adding Pascal's apology. "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." Brevity doesn't only provide value. It also requires time and effort.
Maybe you should be able to get the article for $9.99, and the book for a dollar more. Or maybe you should get the article for $15, and get a $5 discount if you promise to read the whole book :)
I like the title Kindle Singles, although it does sound like a dating service.
Posted by: Andrew | January 31, 2011 at 12:12 PM
"value in brevity" - absolutely true.
Posted by: Ed Renehan | February 01, 2011 at 07:35 AM
I already have several short stories up on Amazon Kindle. At 99 cents each. I have old magazine articles elsewhere at $4.99 each. I started publishing those in 2004. Why the higher price? Well, when they were cheaper, I caught some retailers buying them from Ingram, my distributor and reselling them for as much as $9.99 each and keeping the difference. The "First Sale" doctrine applies and I have no real control over retail price. It turned out that I sold as many of these non-fiction titles at the higher price as at the lower one. I don't sell many because it's the kind of material where sales are driven by need. If you don't need it you wouldn't download it even if it were free.
Fiction, on the other hand, is not bought for information but for entertainment. So price does matter. But if Amazon Singles are priced between .99 and $2.99, where is the difference? I assume I still have to have covers made up and hassle with the inadequate formatting programming, both of which drive up my break-even point because I have to hire other people to do them.
I'm not hopeful about this bringing me huge sales. I was part of the Amazon Shorts program and that was not a great success, mostly because it was not properly staffed or promoted. If Amazon is serious about these publishing programs then it has to support them and the authors in them. Part of that support includes making the process of actually getting readable copy less difficult and expensive.
For what it;s worth, my best selling fiction title is "Buying Retail" on Sony Reader. It's available on Amazon Kindle but does not do as well there. Going into year seven, e-book publishing is still an experiment for Brass Cannon Books, rather than a significant business.
Posted by: Francis Hamit | February 02, 2011 at 02:31 PM
Really interesting development. Two points arising:
1. Interesting to see that practical illustrated books (as PDFs) are being taken in a similar "no longer than necessary" direction by craftandvision.com. They only operate in the practical-photography sphere but this idea will have to be taken up by consumer publishers (cookbooks / crafting / gardening / etc).
2. If you look at the comments you'll see that these price points (around $4.99) introduce a different frame of reference. Reader reviews have sentences like "I had an hour to kill at the airport - it was this ebook or the latte - and I'm so glad I got the ebook, because I've learned a couple of valuable things". It's potentially a very good development for publishers and authors, if - big if - we think about how to take advantage of it.
Posted by: Roly | February 28, 2011 at 04:23 AM