E-Mini Books

There was an interesting piece in Sunday’s New York Times that brought up another facet of the future of electronic publishing. E-books that are longer than an article, but shorter than a book. Jenna Wortham who wrote the piece describes it as “medium-length material”. Seems in our times of widespread attention deficit disorder (and I mean the adults) this is an interesting hybrid that I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of. People sometimes pay for this kind of content, and it offers a whole new world of opportunities for writers who are looking to expand their repertoire and readers who are not willing to commit to buying and/or reading a full length book, but it also opens the door to a lot of questions for everyone involved. Kindle Singles is Amazon’s answer to this question, and they are trying different types of fiction and nonfiction to test the market. Jodi Picoult’s collection of 3 previously published short stories sells for $2.99. And here’s a piece that talks about a success Kindle Singles had selling a 13,000 word news piece for 99 cents. It’s also available for free online, and still sold 1,900 copies for a fee in its first two weeks on sale. The writer of the piece talks about this being like journalism’s version of the novella, an interesting analogy. I recently did a 2-book deal for an author, the first a traditional print book, and the second a mini e-book, in the 8-10,000 word range, that will be on sale several months before the print book comes out. It will offer some previously published material, and a good amount of new content as well. It was tricky negotiating because it’s still brand new territory, there isn’t a lot of money yet for the author for this kind of untested mini-book, and there were questions about, among other things, the author essentially writing 2 books for the price of 1. But in the end, the opportunity won out over the logistics and we went ahead with it.

I’m really curious to know what you guys think about this. Would you pay up to $3 for a long article or short book, depending on how you look at it, or is there a price point you’d be more comfortable with for that type of product? I think there’s going to be a lot of trial and error when it comes to this type of publishing over the next few years, and my guess is we’ll end up with a lot more content requiring small fees, but still plenty that’s free too, and finding that right balance is what writers, publishers, editors, and agents will have fun and headaches figuring out.

9 Responses to E-Mini Books

  1. I’ve already been happy to pay about three dollars for novella-length ebooks. The small press that pubbed me sells several, as does Carina Press. :)

  2. Eric Christopherson says:

    An internet acquaintance of mine, literary agent and author Allan Guthrie, has a 15 K word novella that is in the top 10 in the Amazon UK 100, price slightly less than a quid. I think it’s going to be a real heyday for short stories and novellas and shorter-than-a-book non-fiction works (see The Great Stagnation by economist Tyler Cown, for example).

  3. I bought one of the Kindle singles–Lifted–for 1.99. Not sure I would do it again. In retrospect, it seems like a lot. It was interesting, but I finished it in under an hour, which left me feeling ripped off.

    I believe it was a beefed up magazine article, but it seemed like the kind of thing that might appear in long form in the right magazine, like Vanity Fair or something. I might be willing to pay 3 bucks for a novella, though.

    I kept thinking that something like Nick Tosches’ “The Last Opium Den” would be perfect for Kindle Singles. It originally appeared in Vanity Far and–while very interesting–was pretty long for a magazine article. Of course, things being what they are, the Kindle edition is selling for $9.99, which is very overpriced for a long magazine article …

  4. As an author and as a reader, I applaud the shorter e-books lengths. Actually, I love the options – I can choose full-length long novels or opt for something that can be read in a shorter period of time.

    I have readers tell me that they love the shorter reads because they are perfect to read during a commute or in an evening.

    Many people are time crunched – often includng myself – and they like something just less than a traditional novel.

  5. I’ve always thought that one of the bonuses of the e-readers was the shorter book option. If our favorite writers want to put out novellas/short stories/poems, it’d be great to have access to them!

    Short story collections in particular have a great potential thing going–do you buy the whole “album” or do you get to pick the “single” that you want and move on?

  6. Just a few weeks ago I read an abstract of a magazine article on-line. It was on a topic I really wanted to know more about. I could have waited for a chance to stop by the public library, or I could have stood in a bookstore speed-reading (which would have been an awful lot like stealing…). I don’t have an e-reader, so I didn’t even think to look whether the article or issue was available in an electronic edition.

    What to do? What people have been doing for quite a long while, actually. I went to a local bookstore on my way to work, and paid the cover price for the magazine. $6 in this case.

    I can’t imagine that this is an unusual story. People buy magazines all the time because there’s an article in it that they particularly want to read. Maybe they leaf through the rest of the pages, maybe they don’t.

    If I could have gotten the article for half that price, and downloaded it to a device I like to read on, and could make that transaction happen more-or-less instantly — why not?

    One thing’s sure: a $3 price point shouldn’t (logically) stop me if I’m willing to pay twice as much for the print issue of the magazine … although there’s still the psychological factor about not having the *option* to leaf through the rest of the issue if all I bought was the one e-article.

    It’ll be interesting to see how perceptions evolve on this sort of pay-per-view written content.

  7. Ryan Field says:

    E-publishers have been doing this for a while now, releasing short stories as stand alone e-books. And novellas. I’ve had more of mine pubbed than I can count. Some of which were originally pubbed in print book anthologies by print publishers years ago. I think Fictionwise.com has all e-books categorized and colored coded as S-short, M-Medium, and L-Long. I decided to release at least a dozen a year after hearing from readers, and I don’t have an agent.

    One big problem is making sure readers (and reviewers) know they are, in fact, buying shorts or novellas. I’ve had readers think they were buying full length novels and were not happy when they discovered it was a short story. The length of the book, short or long, has to be made very clear, and some large online stores don’t give the best product details to consumers. So it’s up to the author to let them know.

  8. Short stories for $.99 or bundled for around $3 might interest me. I hope to soon be able to subscribe to the New Yorker on my iPad, but I’d think there would be a market for the short stories they publish as a stand-alone, even as a subscription, for slightly less than the entire issue. I know that when it comes to music, I’ll go on a binge and the next thing I know I’ve got a $70.00 bill from iTunes. I could see doing the same with literature or articles of interest.

  9. Stacey says:

    Thanks so much for all the great feedback and comments. Just saw this piece about a successful Lisa Gardner e-book promotion for $.99. Now that’s a good deal, and a great marketing idea:

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