Monday, 28 February 2011


I'm So Kindle Single

I am preparing to be the first Kindle Single writer launched to a global audience from dear old Wales. Arrivals, my first Kindle Single – that's an Amazon ebook, Nanny, a digital book, a bit like a 45, hence the name – is the novella from my debut collection of short stories The Art of Contraception. It launches at the end of April, closely followed by nine other titles, old and new from Parthian's back catalogue.

Amazon describes their Kindle Single as an ebook that’s 'twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book' The l0,000 to 30,000 word digital pamphlets will be produced by writers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians, publishers and other big thinkers. In fact, in their announcement of the Kindle Single launch Amazon wrote that the size of these ebooks offers the 'perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated—whether it’s a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.'

22 Kindle Singles were launched at the start, but numbers are sure to shoot up everywhere from Academia to quack 'health' guides. Most interesting though, is the potential that the medium offers to independent publishers and authors. As such the publishers of small magazines like this one should be pricking up their ears. The idea could fill the gaping hole in the market caused by the loss of Borders as a distributor of good specialised periodicals of small circulations. With high street book stores like Waterstone's closing more and more stores publishing has been looking bleak and money-poor. The Kindle Single provides a way in to the digital publishing market for new writers and harried thinkers lacking the time or money to release longer works. Although it remains to be seen how well it will work in practise, from what I have read publishing a Kindle Single should be relatively painless process for such new writers too. Amazon says that 'Any rights holder can use the already popular Kindle Digital Text Platform (DTP) to self-publish work in the Kindle Store, and this include Kindle Singles.'

DIY publishing and fanzines now have a whole new platform at their easy disposal. In fact Rolling Stone[] predicts a bright and inspired future for digital publishing: 'Should users take to the format, there’s no reason undiscovered essayists idly scribbling away in the off-hours couldn’t become the next John Updike or upstart indie publishing houses flourish by tackling niche topics. Theoretically, the platform could even birth a new breed of ultra-prolific author, including social media-savvy scribes propelled to fame through constant release of new material inspired by fan request or topical issues. Potentially letting anyone publish without a literary agent or expensive print run, the service may let young talent thrive by selling bite-sized, value-priced manuscripts to a small, but loyal fan base.'

Kindle Singles have their own section in the Kindle Store, and prices are generally much less than a typical book, which means they could potentially attract big global audiences. They also prove far more digestible on the Kindle App (available on Android, iPhone, iPad, and BlackBerry for starters), especially at the shortest lengths. Amazon has also released Kindle for the Web, which enables people to read and share digital book samples in their browsers without the need to install or download anything, widening the audience reach even more.

In sales terms, the Kindle is already taking off, and last month Amazon was reporting that Kindle edition sales were outstripping paperbacks in the US (120 Kindle ebooks:100 paperbacks) [] although UK Kindle reading audience numbers are lagging behind our US counterparts. At the recent Digital Book World conference in New York publishers were predicting that 2014 will be the year when ebooks reach parity with print for the first time.

Elsewhere the Man Booker prize is asking publishers to submit entries as both physical and digital books so that the judges have the option to read them on ereaders. As Man Booker administrator Ion Trewin told the Guardian: 'Traditionally we rely on proofs and hard copies, but it seemed to me if publishers were in a position to supply us with electronic downloads any earlier, it would help because time is of the essence. And it gives the judges an alternative. This is what the Kindle will do – it's not going to take over from print, but will offer another way of reading as well.' Other book prizes have taken the move a step further, such as the Dylan Thomas Prize's introduction of a new ebook category, as I reported in my previous blog on their Sony Reader Award.[]

Right, so physical books are over then? Right? Wrong. Much like Vinyl is still around, so too will books in paper form still be available albeit in special collector's editions with shiny covers for this shiny new age, or retro covers for the nostalgic bookworms. The romance is not so much fading as being shoved out, another casualty 'of the demands of sales and publicity?' like line-by-line editing? [] Or a natural part of a modern world where a fucked up ConDemned notion of The Big Society will see libraries closed or taken over by private American companies [] and further supported by in-house Starbucks-et-al franchises. There are other worries; digital books can be at risk of the remote rewriting of both books and history, a panic of censorship, another step closer to the loss of liberties and the power of the potential police state. Or for the writer with a block, or an unstoppable flow a la Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys, the fear that we will never, ever finish, not just the novel but the extended scenes, the apps, and the alternate endings. When is The End really The End?

The End.

Further Reading:

Apple has confirmed that it wants a cut of Amazon's Kindle sales made via its iPad and iPhone apps.

Which is best? Kindle or Ipad?

Information Overload. For those who find all these screens too much.

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