Different approaches to keeping the dollars to words ratio high

The Kindle got some new thing called Kindle Singles today. I think it’s a great idea to invite singles aboard the eBook revolution – Actually, scratch that. This whole Kindle Singles thing is almost as pointless as two ridiculously talkative gentlemen waiting for Godot.

There are a few questions that come up when you read the nonsense Chris Anderson writes about Kindle Singles -

“They’re short, pithy, riveting. They’re designed to express a single big idea in a way that can be absorbed in a single sitting.” 

Are there really that many big ideas that can be fully appreciated in a single sitting?

Also it’s a little strange for him to be advocating 10,000 word shorts that cost $3 – Isn’t he the ‘everything should be free, that’s the best strategy’ guy?

Mr. Kindle Singles, Why are you Single?

Here are some questions -

  1. Does a $2.99 Kindle Single translate into the short story equivalent of a $15 book?
  2. Are we catering to shorter attention spans instead of promoting literature? 
  3. Are we expected to pay $2.99 when the online videos are free (for the TED singles)?
  4. What was wrong with calling them Short Stories or Articles?
  5. Is all of this just an attempt to keep the dollars to words ratio high?

The last is the question this post will address. In addition to making fun of Kindle Singles – with affection, or something akin to affection.

What is the Agency Model fundamentally about?

It’s about getting an unrealistic amount of money for a book.

The book should be $5 or $8 because costs have gone down. Instead the Publisher suggests that prices be raised to $15. It’s fundamentally an attempt to raise the dollars to words ratio while lowering production costs.

When this straight approach fails, one alternative is to cut that book into 10 parts and sell each for $2 or $3. So now they are $20 or $30 for the same amount of words. This might sound crazy but Publishers are trying it already.

Take any collection of stories released in 2009 or 2010, and look at the single-story bite-sized editions that are available for $2 to $3 each. That’s just the Agency Model in another form.

A story about small plates

Restaurants in a city very similar to, although completely different from, New York found out that if they cut dinner entrees to a third in size, and priced them at half, their patrons ended up ordering three or four of them.

Customers felt they got a lot more value for money – After all, each plate is now half price. Yet, they didn’t notice that they were getting only a third of the meal.

They ended up paying $15 for what earlier was only $10 – At the same time they felt they saved a ton of money.

That’s exactly what Publishers were trying to do by cutting a book of stories into individual stories, and selling them for $2 to $3.

Kindle Singles = a way to keep the dollars to words ratio high?

Kindle Singles might be just another attempt to achieve the end-goal Publishers were trying to achieve by cutting up story collections into individual stories.

Who knows whether it’s for the good of reading or not? Who knows what the right price for Kindle Singles is?

All we know is that, fundamentally, this seems to be about keeping the dollars to words ratio high. It’s a good thing it isn’t going to work.

Why Kindle Singles are unlikely to be a home run

Well, take your pick -

  1. We aren’t exactly in the midst of a great revival of the short story.
  2. Singles totally fail the value for money test. Would you rather get a NY Times Bestselling Author’s $1.99 book deal or a promising indie author’s $1 book or get a Single for $3?
  3. It’s trying to create an entire new market. That’s an incredibly hard thing to do. It would have been much easier to piggyback on the short story or on something else.
  4. It’s aimed at Kindle owners who love books. It would be one thing to aim it at iPad or iPhone owners. Expecting Kindle owners, who are in love with books, to embrace this new format is a bit ambitious.
  5. It doesn’t make much sense. Consider one of the Kindle Singles that is selling well – Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Home. It’s 3 short stories selling for $1.99. It’s nothing new – it’s just a bunch of short stories.

We would need Steve Jobs to put an ‘i’ in front of the Singles to turn it into the next hot thing.

In every other scenario it’s unlikely that Kindle Singles will have an impact. Currently, the 2 best-selling singles are in the Top 100 and the third is at #167. So, on the day that they were launched, Kindle Singles couldn’t take over the charts. What hope do they have later – when there won’t be 5,000 sites writing about them.

What would work exceedingly well is Free Kindle Singles

Let published and self-published authors, journalists, and people selling an idea all offer up a free Kindle Single each. Ten to twenty thousand words that inspire you to buy their book.

Not an advertisement. Not a leader into a story. A novella – something complete in itself. Something that works out better than a sample because it has a sense of closure to it.

Instead of trying to get $3 for 10,000 words of writing, it would make more sense to turn Kindle Singles into a channel that introduces new authors to readers.

11 Responses

  1. “Take any collection of stories released in 2009 or 2010, and look at the single-story bite-sized editions that are available for $2 to $3 each. That’s just the Agency Model in another form.”

    An alternative and more positive way to look at it is as analogous to the choice consumers got when they could buy the songs they liked individually, without having to buy a whole CD consisting mostly of filler.

    The difference is that songs are played repeatedly and buyers have heard them before they buy, unlike stories and articles.

    In time, I suspect Amazon will cut the price of these singles (the name should have been “singletons”) to $1 or 0.50, which is when they’ll take off.

    • At 50 cents or $1 it’s fine. At $3 it’s not. You make a good point – The right way to look at it is as single music tracks, and Amazon should price them lower.

  2. I looked at the singles and noticed that they were very dshort so I decided to pass. It also upsets me when I buy a book and find it is about 120 to 190 pages and pay $3.00 to $4.00 dollars for it because amazon didn’t put a page count on it.

  3. I thought Singles were for non-fiction journalistic pieces. As such I think it might be a good fit, and if some compelling work is done (especially prize winning) we might see the new form to revive journalism.

  4. I’m following your news and views with keen interest, as I’m seriously considering the indie publishing route. My current thought is to release a free anthology of short stories and flash fiction, that includes excerpts from two novels (priced at $3 each). The Singles idea might be viable as well, especially if (as implied) I could include multiple stories plus the excerpts in two or three mini-anthologies.

  5. Also, the folks over at TED have announced TEDBooks today. Sort of the same thing and they come in Kindle and other flavors, too.

  6. Have to agree that the price point should be 50 cents to a buck. I plan to release a collection of shorts soon that have a similar tone to my books. Wouldn’t dream of charging more than that.

    Barbra Annino
    Author of Opal Fire

  7. The TED Chris Anderson and the “Free” Chris Anderson are two different guys.

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