The rise of Kindle Singles

The rise of e-readers like the Kindle is having a huge impact on the publishing industry, and it’s also spawning new forms of books that can be sold.

The Kindle Single is not a promising name. It sounds like a new kind of prefabricated fire log, or a type of person you might meet on the dating service eHarmony — perhaps a lonely independent bookstore owner put out of business by Amazon.com.

Here’s what Kindle Singles actually are: probably the best reason to buy an e-reader in the first place. They’re works of long-form journalism that seek out that sweet spot between magazine articles and hardcover books. Amazon calls them “compelling ideas expressed at their natural length.” If I didn’t loathe the word “compelling,” I’d think that wasn’t a half-bad slogan.

I recently sat down and read 15 of these boutique minibooks. Most are blah; a few are so subliterate they made my temples ache. But several — like John Hooper’s reportage on the Costa Concordia disaster, Jane Hirshfield on haiku and Jonathan Mahler on Joe Paterno — are so good they awaken you to the promise of what feels almost like a new genre: long enough for genuine complexity, short enough that you don’t need journalistic starches and fillers.

Amazon hardly has a monopoly on this novella-length form. Digital publishers like Byliner and the Atavist are commissioning articles of this length that can be purchased and read on any e-reader, or on laptops or phones. But Amazon cherry-picks the best and is commissioning its own articles and essays under the editorship of the journalist David Blum.

It will be fascinating to see how this evolves, as I can see the attraction to these shorter books. This opens up even more opportunities for writers, and that’s a good thing.

  

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