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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  1. identicon
    Jennifer, 10 Jan 2013 @ 8:57pm

    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!

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