The Rise Of E-Singles In Literature

from the bite-sized-culture dept

While it hasn't been done perfectly, I'm of the opinion that the literature world has handled the transition to the digital economy rather well. Perhaps they saw the recording industry trip over its own testicles so badly that they were able to learn from all the worst mistakes. The pricing, while probably not exactly right, far better mirrors consumer demand than what the music industry attempted for digital music initially. We're even seeing a quicker transition to DRM abandonement than I think we saw for music. All that being said, as much as is possible, the inevitable progression that recorded music followed into the digital realm continues with literature.

With that in mind, perhaps it shouldn't be all that surprising that one of the buzzwords in the publishing industry is quickly becoming eSingles. For the unintiated, eSingles are loosely defined as works of complete literature in the neighborhood of 8k-10k words. Laura Hazard Owen sums things up rather nicely.

Amazon’s U.S. Kindle Singles store now contains 283 singles. In February, I reported that the company had sold 2 million Kindle Singles; as of September, that number was up to 3.5 million, and Amazon (AMZN) just expanded the program to the U.K., where it will include new entries by bestselling British authors as well as most of the American Kindle Singles. Many Byliner Originals are available through Kindle Singles, and they’ll be crossing the Atlantic for the first time with the program’s U.K. expansion.

Popularity of production aside, the other half of the coin is whether or not anyone actually buys these eSingles. Well, it turns out the sales of eSingle literature is a pretty decent mirror to the music singles market. In other words, they're selling pretty well. Several eSingles are hitting the best sellers list and authors tend to do quite well with them thanks to the friendly split distributors like Amazon take. Owen notes that because of the lower price of these singles, bigger publishing houses tend to not be as high on eSingles because the low price point means less on the profit margin, but that kind of misses the point. Much in the same way digital distribution lowered the barriers in music, so one would expect the same to occur in literature, meaning that eSingles may end up being less about publishers benefiting from them as much as new and/or what would otherwise be unheard of artists.

With all that said, it's the distributors of eSingles that are currently limited, but that isn't going to last for long. There's a ton of interest.

That could change next year as other digital bookstores pay more attention to the format. Apple (AAPL) has a separate section of the iBookstore for shorter reads. Barnes & Noble (BKS) launched Nook Snaps, a so-far unimpressive answer to Kindle Singles. Those efforts can give shorter works a promotional push. We could also see more companies, or individual authors, do a Kickstarter campaign to fund either a line of e-singles or just a single work. That’s what journalism startup Matter did.

What matters is that this is where publishing is going to go in the future, likely in a major way. Even the rise of the eBook helps eSingles make sense, given that anyone on a commute may wish to invest in a shorter read on their iPad than a longer novel. In any case, the end result will be more writing, more literature, and more culture, and that is a beautiful thing.

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Comments on “The Rise Of E-Singles In Literature”

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Jennifer (profile) says:

Since the publishing industry lost control of literature, there’s been great progress out there. The “genre mold” is no longer enforced so you can have a sci fi/romance novel instead of just one or the other. And now the idea of “mandatory length” is crumbling. Goodbye silly stipulations for padding and cutting–now the story size is the means, not the ends. It’s truly a great time to be a writer.

I would object, however, to the idea that Amazon gives authors a “friendly split.” No way! They take 30% (one third!) of your profits. And, if you try to sell your book anywhere but on their website, you’re required by contract to price it 20% lower. I’ll sell my books off my own website and take 100% of the profits, thank you very much.

As an author, I just want to state for the record that a.) I’m not worried about piracy, and b.) Copyright should last no more than 5 years, max! I could quadruple my income within a *month* if we cut down copyright length. How? By “remixing” 20 year old books that nobody reads in order to make them relevant to a more targeted modern audience. By taking one relevant chapter out of twenty old books and packaging them together to create a new twenty-chapter long book focused specifically on a single subject of interest, I could reach an entirely new audience with that old content, reignite interest in the twenty old books I “sampled,” and offer service to an under-appreciated niche market where I have already seen quite a bit of interest in my offerings.
I could of course “rewrite” those twenty chapters into my own words, being careful to avoid plagiarism (which is what I did for my last book). But why reinvent the wheel over and over? It’s slow–takes years–tedious and inefficient. Furthermore, since I’m not an expert in the content matter of each of the twenty books, the summary I provided would necessarily be of poorer quality. We already have “Open Source Books” like Wikibooks, but until we can do the type of direct incorporation I have described, we won’t be going anywhere fast with them.

I could also go into transformative works. As a longtime writer, artist, cartoonist and hobbyist animator I know I could add new sequels (comics, stories, even animated cartoons) to 20 year old franchises and make a mint off them. Take for example the You Tube hit “Trains-formers,” a crossover between Transformers and Thomas the Tank Engine produced in Flash by a fan. It was a massive, massive hit for the genre, with something like 14,000,000 views and three sequels. The creator didn’t take home a penny. He could have been selling Trains-formers t-shirts, videos, and even toys (thanks 3D printing!)or even pay-per-view advertising. But no, his innovation and creativity received no reward. Finally the Thomas the Tank Engine company sent him a cease and desist letter. Was this video competing with Thomas and friends to drive them out of business? I doubt it, but suppose it *was*? In that case maybe the company should face the fact that it is failing to meet the demands of its consumers. Competition can drive up creative quality as well as product quality. So I say, bring it on!

I believe fervently that copyright is stifling creativity, innovation, and business. If only we could get rid of it!

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Not That New

Actually short stories are different altogether.

I suppose eSingles could be more described as novella’s. Though eSingles sounds more “cyber-hip” mandatory eyeroll

Short stories have been around since the 17th century more or less whereas novella’s have been around since 12th century (the early Renaissance I seem to recall)

Me – I like micro stories. For example the six word stories from here . Amazing stuff and actually hard to write.

ColinCowpat (profile) says:

Breath of Fresh Air

Must admit, I’ve bought “Gutenberg the Geek” – for free – and also the spoof “50 Sheds of Grey” – the male parody of the book series, for 20p. It’s refreshing that you can buy a book that’s concise, cost effective and not full of superfluous “filler” like most books you find in physical form.

The 50 Sheds of Grey book got my order after seeing a two sentence sampler of the work: Hurt me!’ she begged, raising her skirt as she bent over the workbench. ‘Very well,’ I replied, ‘You’ve got fat ankles and no dress sense.’

Mr. Applegate says:

We’re even seeing a quicker transition to DRM abandonement [sic] than I think we saw for music.

It seems to me DRM is still very much a part of most ebooks. I think nearly all the large publisher still have DRM, and of course many choose to kill off ebook copies available in libraries after 26 lends, they also prevent someone from getting the same ebook twice. Others choose to charge extremely high rates to libraries for ebooks they wish to offer.

I point to a recent Forbes article on the subject:

Zangetsu (profile) says:

Science Fiction Gets It Right

Or, rather, the Science Fiction Writers of America:

Short Story: Less than 7500 words
Novelete: Between 7500 and 17,500 words
Novella: Between 17,500 words and 40,000 words
Novel: Over 40,000 words

So, what we have here are people selling a “Novelette”. The definitions were, I believe, originally created for the Nebula Awards.

As for the benefit of a novelette or “e-Single”, it should be a very inexpensive way to determine whether or not the author, their style, or the subject matter are something you are comfortable with and enjoy. If, however, Publishers get hold of this they will try to turn a large novel into a lot of novelettes and try to get more money out of the audience for the same price. Imagine Fall of Giants by Ken Follet coming out in 25 pieces at $0.99 each instead of the $9.99 novel.

Potential benefit: Great
Potential abuse: Great

Markus Hopkins (profile) says:

Not to Mention Serials

Just recently I noticed that John Scalzi (author of Old Man’s War, etc.), is releasing his newest book in serial format in one week intervals. Each release (starting with for the curious) is priced at $0.99. So, while the book totals out to roughly $13, if you’re a Scalzi fan and want the latest bit as it is released, you really won’t feel the price hit as much. My guess is that they’ll release the entire thing at a lower price after the initial run.

Sidenote: Scalzi hates DRM, and as I think has been covered here, his publisher, TOR, has moved to DRM free ebook releases. While this is not precisely what this article was talking about, it looks like it’s in the same vein of what is now enabled with e-publishing.

Also, sorry if this reads like an ad for his book. I just hadn’t seen this happen before now.

Dreampod says:

Re: Not to Mention Serials

I was actually going to mention that myself. I do think it is relevant and important because it is a major publisher dipping into it rather than individuals or small imprints. The real unfortunate thing about Scalzi’s project is that if you buy the serials as they are released you need to rebuy (or pirate – you morally bankrupt monster!) the compiled version at the end if you don’t want 2 novella’s and 11 novelette’s clogging your library.

Hopponi (profile) says:


Okay, now I need to go look at some of the offerings of this type. It sounds like these are just short stories, but not tied up in collections. This could be the big shot in the arm that publishers need if they loosen up and spread out their inventory of short stories. Lets see if old school publishers can learn and grow rather than die out. Grow wiht it or die because of it.

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