Is it unfair to pick on Kindle Singles?

Have disliked the whole concept of Kindle Singles since the very launch. Have been trying my best to not kick the dog while it’s down but now that Blog Kindle has asked the question –

How Much Value do Kindle Singles bring to the table?

It’s hard to resist.

So here we go – guaranteeing my ticket to Hell for picking on the already failing Kindle Singles idea.

It’s all about Value

Value – such a magical word.

That post by Blog Kindle is genius. Because it manages to point out the value dilemma in such a civilized, gentlemanly way –

Objectively, I know that good writing can be found in any number of styles and lengths.  There’s no reason that $2 spent on a Kindle Single wouldn’t be better spent than on a similarly well reviewed Kindle Edition from any other category in the store. 

There’s this little voice in the back of my head when I think about it, however, that reminds me that even if it’s great, the book will be over far too soon.  As such, I’m pushed back toward traditional length works.  Definitely a dilemma.

That’s so much better than saying something like –

  • Kindle Singles are just an attempt to make us pay $20 for $5 worth of journalistic writing.

Which would be such a terrible and terribly unfair way of looking at it.

The Fight for $9.99 and the fight against greedy publishers makes it hard to look at any attempt to sell the written word at above $10 per book-length as anything other than stealing.

First, let’s take a quick look at how Kindle Singles are doing.

Kindle Singles not getting lucky

The Top 20 has 6 items at $1 and zero Kindle Singles.

The first Kindle Single is at #48 and is priced at $1.99. The second Kindle Single is at #69 and priced at $1.99. The third Kindle Single is at #73 and priced at $2.99.

That’s it – 3 Kindle Singles in the entire Top 100.

The next 7 Kindle Singles – 150th, 307th, 368th, 586th, 641st, 761st, and 860th.

You could be the 10th highest selling Kindle Single in the entire store and your sales rank would be just 860. Not exactly a bestseller.

And they aren’t getting much love either –

I have never written a review but felt compelled to do so after reading this glorified newspaper article.

It was $1.99, poorly written and incomplete. Why release something now that doesn’t have an end, since the trial won’t be until this spring? I’m disappointed that I spent money on something that I could have just read in the local LA paper, and that I now have to make a note to research on my own to find out the resolution.

There are full length, quality books on Kindle for $.99. This should have been free, or a complete story.

Glorified newspaper article – Ouch!

That one sentence is key – There are full length, quality books on Kindle for $0.99.

Like this morning’s two $1 books from NY Times bestselling authors.

Kindle Store is like Groupon for Books

The reason Kindle Singles are guaranteed to fail is the same reason that Kindle owners love $1 Kindle Books and the Kindle Store.

Kindle Store is Groupon for Books!

You can get incredible value for money while authors can still make good amounts of money.

Take Amanda Hocking or John Locke – They sell books worth $5 to $10 for $1 each and provide incredible value for money. At the same time, due to the high number of Kindle owners and because there are no middle-men, they make hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.

It’s amazing. It’s Groupon for Books except it’s sustainable – authors don’t have to take a loss to attract new customers.

Kindle Singles goes against this trend of providing incredible value for money.

As a Kindle owner it’s great that readers and authors are winning with the Kindle Store’s ‘more value for both’ approach.

There’s no place for Kindle Singles in the Brave New World of Always Providing Incredible Value for Money.

Why pay $2 for a rehashed newspaper article when we can get 5-star books for $1 each? We’ve finally managed to stop paying for the inefficiency of Publishers. Why would we want to start paying for the inefficiency of newspaper publishers?

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.

What else can you do with the Kindle besides read?

The Kindle is a dedicated eBook reader. It’s focused on reading, and built from the ground up to be a good reading device.

However, there are quite a few non-reading related things you can do with it.

Ran into an article that mentioned 5 things – playing games, surfing the Net, using InstaPaper, text to speech, social sharing. Well, let’s see if we can come up with a better list.

Things You can do with Your Kindle

Let’s start off with a rough list –

  1. Check your email. You must use the mobile versions of sites. While the big 3 email providers (Yahoo, Hotmail, GMail) work, some of the smaller ones don’t. Your Comcast or RoadRunner email account might not work – Do a search to confirm.
  2. Check the News, Weather, Quotes, and Scores. Using mobile versions of sites, you can get access to all these services.
  3. Surf the Internet, and read sites and blogs. The Kindle 3’s browser does a decent job of displaying sites. Selecting items and moving around is a pain – but things display fine for the most part. Note that some sites won’t work.
  4. Browse Wikipedia. 
  5. Listen to Music. It’s designed to be background music, so the only options are to pause/resume a track, and to skip to the next track. However, the stereo speakers let you listen to music if you don’t mind the limitations.
  6. Listen to Audiobooks. If you have an Audible audiobook, or audiobooks in mp3 format, you can use your Kindle to listen to them.
  7. Convert your books and documents into audiobooks with text to speech. For all documents you add, and for books which don’t have Text to Speech disabled by their Publishers, you can have the Kindle read the book to you.
  8. Read Manga. You’ll need a program like Mangle to optimize images for the Kindle. After that, you can read your manga on your Kindle. Kindle isn’t built for this, so the experience isn’t going to be spectacular – it’ll be decent.
  9. View Images. You can load up your images, and browse through them. Here too the experience is decent, not spectacular.
  10. Play Free Games. Minesweeper and Gomoku are built-in, and are very rudimentary. There are also 4 free Kindle Apps – Minesweeper again, Blackjack, and two word games (Shuffled Row, Every Word).
  11. Play ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ type games. There are 3 Kindle Games of this type, and they’re all paid – Dusk World, Choice of the Dragon, Choice of Broadsides.
  12. Play Puzzles and Word Puzzles and Card Games. There are around 20 paid games in the Kindle App Store – They range from NY Times Crosswords to Scrabble to Mahjongg Solitaire.

Those are the obvious things. Next, let’s look at some additional things you can do on your Kindle.

Stretching the Kindle’s usefulness

There are a bunch of additional things you can do, though not always very well, on the Kindle –

  1. Check the Time and Date. Press Menu to see the time in the status bar at the top of the page. On the Home Page, type in @t to see the date and time.
  2. Upload a blank text document to your Kindle, and use it to type out your grocery list, or to type out notes.
  3. Use Kindle for driving directions – Go to the mobile version of Google Maps.
  4. Shop. You can obviously buy books – However, you can also use the browser to do other types of shopping. It’s slow and clunky, but doable. The mobile version of Amazon works decently well.
  5. Read Sheet Music. You can actually buy sheet music books. You can also upload your own PDFs or images with sheet music.
  6. View Knitting Patterns. Upload images of knitting patterns on your Kindle, and use it as a knitting reference.
  7. Create a vocabulary list. Whenever you look up a word in the dictionary – highlight it. Then go into the dictionary, and find and highlight other words you want in your vocabulary list. Now, when you are in the Dictionary, you can go to ‘View My Notes & Marks’ in the Menu, and you get your Vocabulary List.
  8. Use as a Picture Frame. Use the Kindle screensaver hack to allow your own screensavers. Then put the photos you want as screensavers.
  9. Use Read It Later or InstaPaper. During the day/week, collect all the articles you want to read using either of these tools. Then download the articles to your Kindle, and read them later when you have time.
  10. Keep a document full of Song Lyrics.
  11. Carry user guides for your camera and other devices.
  12. Use Kindle as a USB drive. 3.3 GB out of the 4 GB memory is available to Kindle owners – which means you’ll usually have a few GB free, and can use Kindle as a USB drive.
  13. Use it for scripts and screenplays.
  14. Use it for podcasts and radio shows. You’ll have to download these to your PC, and then transfer them to your Kindle. After that, you can play them like regular mp3 files.
  15. Keep travel confirmations and information, such as flight numbers and flight confirmation numbers.
  16. Check in to your flight from the Kindle. This might not work for some airline websites.
  17. Put in Menus for your favorite restaurants. Put in a document with phone numbers for restaurants and delivery services.
  18. Use it as a phone book. Upload a text document that has all your contacts.
  19. Keep your workout routine.
  20. Search for what’s good nearby. If you’re out, and want to grab a meal – just Google for the closest restaurants. Thanks to Andrys for this tip.
  21. For authors – Use it to see what your book will read like. You can take a half-finished manuscript, put it on the Kindle, and get a great idea what it reads like.
  22. Download rules for games, when on a trip, so everyone can join in.
  23. Use it for trading. Might not work if you’re a high frequency trader.
  24. Get a themed skin or cover, and show off your Kindle, and your good taste, in public. Candidates include Monet and Van Gogh skins, and Greaty Gatsby and Great Expectations covers.
  25. Use CutePDF to convert a website into a PDF, and read it later.
  26. Put travel guides and travel articles on your Kindle for trips.
  27. Find cocktail recipes and instructions. You could also check up on hangover cures the next day.
  28. Use for study notes.
  29. Use for vocabulary lists.
  30. Put meditation music on it, and use your Kindle to relax.
  31. For Pilots – Use it for aviation charts.
  32. Use a translation dictionary with the Kindle. Also, you can collect travel phrases online, copy them into a text document, and put the document on your Kindle.
  33. Store genealogy records on it.
  34. Store lecture notes on your Kindle.
  35. Put the TV schedule on it.
  36. Check movie showtimes.
  37. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers, and your doctor’s contact information.
  38. Keep a list of birthdays.
  39. Keep a list of gift ideas, and a gift checklist – mark off gifts that have already been bought.
  40. Check reviews and prices using the Kindle’s browser, when you are buying something in a store.
  41. Have a speech or a presentation read to you, to see how it sounds.
  42. Use your Kindle instead of cue cards, when doing a presentation.

A lot of credit to this excellent thread on ‘Unusual and Unique Uses of the Kindle’ started by Jonathan K. L.

It’s amazing to see all the innovative ways in which Kindle owners are using their Kindles. All the new ways in which you can use your Kindle, from point 10. onwards on the second list, are things Kindle owners have come up with. It just goes to show – You can never predict all the new and interesting uses people will think up for your device.