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Kindle Singles: Amazon’s Stealth Publishing Imprint

There’s an article in yesterday’s NYTimes that is worth your time.

At first glance it is an interview of David Blume, the former publisher Amazon hired to run the Kindle Singles Store, but in reality there is a lot more information in the article than that.

If you still think of the Kindle Single as just a type of digital content, then read this:

It is also a small, in-house publishing brand — analogous to a grocery store that makes an in-house brand of salsa to compete with other manufacturers. Mr. Blum comes up with his own ideas or cherry-picks pieces from the more than 1,000 unsolicited manuscripts he receives each month. He then edits them and helps pick cover art.

Amazon is tricky, aren’t they? Not only are they turning a profit in a niche which they created (5m Kindle Singles sold since January 2011), they are also subtly undermining yet another aspect of the publisher/author relationship.

Amazon is using the Kindle Singles to disintermediate the book market and the publishing industry. That is much the same reason that Amazon launched KDP, but in the case of the Kindle Singles Amazon is coming closer to acting as a replacement for the publishers rather than a bypass around them.

Amazon isn’t alone in this niche. Byliner, Atavist, and other startups also sell novella length content (5,000 to 30,000 words), and you can even find some titles in other major ebookstores like Kobo and Nook. But the Kindle Single Store is the largest:

Publishers point out that the best-selling Kindle Singles, like “Second Son,” by the British thriller writer Lee Child, come through them and are also distributed across other Web sites that sell fiction of similar length, like Apple and Barnes & Noble.

However, more than 250,000 copies of “Second Son” were sold through Singles, by far the largest share of the market.

Amazon wasn’t even the first to sell novella-length content; that title goes to the now defunct Fictionwise. This ebookstore was enabling authors to sell short works in multiple DRM-free formats since at least 2005.

But as much as I admire Fictionwise for being first, they did little to curate the titles they sold, and they required a minimum number of titles from each author. Fictionwise also didn’t pay all that much by today’s standards (35%), but then again no one was paying anymore for ebooks st that time.

All in all, Fictionwise was running a rough and ready version of the Kindle Single Store long before Amazon conceived of the idea. It’s a pity that B&N never realized what they had, otherwise we might be talking about Nook Singles today.

That’s really not such a ridiculous idea. After all, B&N does still own Sterling Publishing, so they could have borrowed some editorial talent without even going out of house. But the real reason we’re not talking about Nook Singles today is that I don’t think B&N ever wanted or even felt that they needed to disrupt publishing and that they were too beholden to the legacy publishers. Amazon was and is thoroughly hated by the publishing industry, so they had nothing  to lose.

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carmen webster buxton April 23, 2013 um 9:02 pm

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