Kindle Singles - New short market opening up?

Amazon just announced a new line for their Kindle platform, yesterday. Called "Kindle Singles", the idea seems to be to release short works at a lower price. Here's the press release:

Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century--works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be 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.

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. 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.

"Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format," said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. "With Kindle Singles, we're reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers and we're excited to see what they create."

Like all Kindle content, Kindle Singles will be "Buy Once, Read Everywhere"--customers will be able to read them on Kindle, Kindle 3G, Kindle DX, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, Mac, PC, BlackBerry, and Android-based devices. Amazon's Whispersync technology syncs your place across devices, so you can pick up where you left off. In addition, with the Kindle Worry-Free Archive, Kindle Singles will be automatically backed up online in your Kindle library on Amazon where they can be re-downloaded wirelessly for free, anytime.

To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact digital-publications@amazon.com.

There's already a great writeup on some of the potential of this new format here.

But what I wanted to talk about is the direct application to fiction writers.  First off, we're not sure that there is one.  The press release seems to be talking more about non-fiction than fiction.  That said - the format seems like it would work well for fiction.  With books moving gradually toward the $3-5 range in ebook format, and a lower limit of 99 cents for even short works on Kindle DTP, it can be hard to sell short fiction for the Kindle.  A number of folks have tried, putting either single short stories or collections of several short stories up at the 99 cent rate, but sales have been much lower than we've been seeing for full length novels.

It seems like consumers see a hundred thousand word novel selling for $2.99 as a good deal, but balk at a ten thousand word story for 99 cents.  Which isn't illogical.

So if writers can put short stories up for an even lower rate, we might see a boost in short fiction sales.  How much?  Hard to say.  I think we'd need to see some experimentation in pricing.  But at some point, a story simply becomes so inexpensive that it's an easy impulse buy, and should sell very well.  For instance, if you can place a story for 25 cents, and keep 70% like we see with the main DTP program, then you're keeping about 17.5 cents per sale.  If you sell 100 copies of each such story per week, and write a new one per week, by the end of a year you're earning out over $900 a week just writing one short story a week.  And don't forget - the readership is expanding exponentially, literally millions of new potential readers added every month.  And sales tend to increase over time, not decrease - we've seen that even with short fiction being offered for 99 cents.  Lastly, we've seen strong evidence that the more writing you have for sale in the Kindle store, the more likely any of those works is to sell.  Every purchase of any writing links the buyer in to all your other work, and links that purchase into the "customers who looked at/purchased this also looked at/bought" system.  Powerful marketing tools.

There's a possible downside here, as well.  It sounds like Kindle Singles will be listed separately from the longer Kindle works, in their own section of the website.  One idea I had considered was serializing a novel - releasing, say, a 120,000 word novel in 20,000 word segments, one per month, over a six month period.  Sell each segment at 99 cents, and the income per book sold is solid.  More importantly, you end up with six different works out there for readers to find - and you keep one work with your name on it in the "released in the last 30 days" category for a full six months.  Again, powerful marketing tools.  But with the Singles program opening up, I have to wonder if people will be interested in buying 20,000 word serials in the regular Kindle store.  I suppose we'll see.

On the plus side - and this is a huge plus! - the Singles program could revitalize a dying short fiction market.  I write science fiction, among other things...  And I know the genre's history.  The birthplace of SF's popularity was in magazine short fiction and serialized novels.  Over time, those magazines fostered the career of hundreds of writers who went on to write famous novels.  Today though, there are barely a handful of science fiction short story markets remaining.  Despite that, it's still common to hear old writers advice novices to seek out short fiction publication, then work on novels.  Once good advice, it's not anymore - usually, it's harder to get a SF short story published today than it is to see a novel in print!

But Kindle Singles could change all that.  If there is a good market for short stories out there, I think this launch could be the way to find it.  Short story writing could regain its standing as both an excellent entry to the field, and even as a medium that a complete career could be build around.

Will it work?  We'll all have to wait and see.  I'm already thinking about short story ideas though, for the first time in a long while!