The front of the Amazon Kindle DX
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Amazon continues to work its way through publishing in a truly disruptive fashion. From the homely (and, to some, inauspicious) Kindle 1.0 has emerged a popular, networked, and affordable e-book platform of significant commercial value and technical sophistication. The Amazon self-publishing infrastructure has improved, as well, enabling many authors to realize significant sales quickly and easily. And now, in another innovation publishers themselves will probably wish they’d thought up or invested enough to make possible, Amazon is offering “Amazon Singles,” short books or long monographs available for download at lower prices.

Information bites, snacks, and meals may now be joined by information brunches. Jeff Bezos himself was hopeful that the Kindle might help lengthen attention spans, so a bridge to brunching fits with that aspiration.

Amazon is clearly aiming at a more scholarly market with this new offering, which promises new types of content, written as Abraham Lincoln might say about a man’s legs “long enough to reach the ground,” and prices lower than typical novels.

To quote from Amazon’s press release:

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.

Ever wished that business book you bought could have been half as long for half the price? Now, it can be. As Rex Hammock notes on his blog:

I have this belief that almost every business book I’ve ever read would have been twice as good if half the words were left out. . . . When required by the book publisher to bloat up the content to 50,000+ words, the author has to shovel in a second, third or forth anecdote or case study example to illustrate each idea. I don’t know about you, but I can usually catch the drift after the first story. In other words, I’d be more likely to purchase a $4 ebook that is written by an expert reporter or blogger . . . that collects their “best of” insights on a specific topic. I don’t want to pay $10 for their padded version that is published as a book. But the $4 version that is 5,000 – 20,000 words of explanation, context and analysis: Bring it on.

By naming scientists, historians, and other academics in its call to authors, Amazon is clearly aiming for the monograph market.

I’ve often wondered at what kind of market resuscitation the e-reader space might mean for monographs, short stories, essays, and poetry. This may be the first sign that the Kindle, if not other e-reader platforms, will help create new markets for old formats.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


4 Thoughts on "Information Brunching — “Amazon Singles” Finds Space Between Essays and Books"

—“And now, in another innovation publishers themselves will probably wish they’d thought up…”—

Well, some of us were calling for a rise of shorter forms of text last year. Seems an obvious idea to me, and well in line with much of what we’ve recommended at TSK for quite a while. Content needs to be media-independent. Our idea of a “book” these days has been directly shaped by binding technologies and the paperback market’s desire to have higher prices be justified by longer books. Free from those constraints, there’s no reason short stories have to be sold in collections, no reason why the novella isn’t a perfectly reasonable format, or why a publisher needs to sell issues of journals rather than articles, or entire textbooks/manuals rather than individual chapters.

And as mentioned in the post linked above, the rise of mobile devices makes short-form reading even more desirable. A novel is too long to read on your subway ride, but a short story might be perfect.

It’s not as though short books haven’t been tried by university presses. Bill McClung, then Social Science Editor at Princeton University Press, wrote an essay on “The Short Book” praising its virtues in the very first issue of the journal Scholarly Publishing in 1969, and his vision later became realized as the series known as Quantum Books after he had moved to the University of California Press. More recently, Princeton has been publishing a series of very short, pocket-sized books with great success, the best known of which is Harry Frankfurt’s best-selling “On Bullshit.”
Yale had its Fastback series, and Oxford has done well with its Very Short introductions series. What Amazon is doing is thus nothing new. One wonders, of course, if anything it publishes will be peer-reviewed, as all university press books are.

What you are really talking about here is an organization that potentially has the scale to support micro-niche content. Can Amazon sell enough Harry Potter to support monographs on french imperialism in africa? Time will tell.

Amazon tried this before with Amazon Shorts, which failed mostly because they did not promote it sufficiently. (I was one of the authors in that program) Since they made Kindle files available for other platforms, they have a much larger customer base. And they are the ultimate “Long Tail” sales organization. They sell millions of books, but very few of any title that is not a “best-seller”. E-books, once upload, don’t take up any physical space and cost less than a penny to deliver. They will make money on every title. Not much on any one, but millions on the total sales.

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