Believe Amazon and you’ll believe that writers have spent years (“more than a century” to use their words) struggling with the dilemma of whether to write under 10,000 words or over 50,000. From this standpoint, the online books-and-more retailer today announced the launch of Kindle Singles, non-fiction works twice the length of a New Yorker magazine feature or the equivalent of several book chapters, delivered via the company’s ereading platform, Kindle. The idea is simple, and well presented in Amazon’s brief press release. But is the premise true? And is the idea actually that new?
Amazon are certainly right that publishers tend to lean towards certain rough page targets, defined by genre and accompanied by specific price points. There are a whole range of reasons for this, ranging from how books are produced (in folded sheets that deliver sets of 32 page sections), to considerations of the spine width visible on a bookshop shelf to the weight and feel of a book in a purchaser’s hand (and the potential purchaser’s associated interpretation of the value of the product). When you’re selling rather more intangible ebooks, these production and physical issues obviously become less important, making Amazon’s aim of serving up “ideas and the words to deliver them” in succinct morsels sound like an appetising plan.
But hang on a sec… doesn’t this all sound a bit like Oxford University Press’ “brilliantly concise” Very Short Introductions series, or Penguin’s beautiful Great Ideas project? Even Amazon’s strapline seems to nod to the latter: “compelling ideas expressed at their natural length”. Given that all Amazon will say about pricing is an intention to come in at “much less than a typical book” we don’t yet know whether Kindle Singles will undercut the ebook versions of these series (all available on Kindle) or not. And despite Rob over at The Fiction Desk’s suggestion last year that short publications were becoming more marketable because time-pressured bloggers are more inclined to discuss and review them, I doubt there’s huge PR potential in yet another big-ideas-in-short-form concept.
So if the idea’s not new, what are Amazon up to? For me, the most intriguing thing about today’s announcement isn’t the format or the intended broad subject coverage. Rather it’s the idea that Amazon are inviting authors and publishers to work with them to create these new products, even providing an email address to start the conversation. So if you classify yourself as an “accomplished writer” or “serious thinker”, shoot off your pitch to email@example.com now. I might just try it myself.