Amazon has completely changed the world of all writers, upended market restraints on creativity and further distributed the fruits of intellectual labor by taking steps to sell 10,000-word to 30,000-word publications on the Kindle.
This is another chance to crack open a market wide enough to make it seem new, and when a chance to make money arises, society will change to accommodate it, as ReadWriteWeb hints at. Knowledge never moves as fast as it does when there’s cash to be made sharing it.
I can’t emphasize how shocking it is to consider this Amazon exec’s quote:
“Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format,” said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content.
Let’s reword that: Make some money writing whatever you want at whatever length you want, and don’t worry about marketing and distribution.
OK, let’s hedge a bit. Amazon made another genre, “Singles,” that they are attempting to present as unique to the Kindle. “Singles” actually have a clearly defined length: 10,000 words to 30,000 words. I think this genre used to be called “Novellas,” “Really Long and Occasionally Way Too Long Articles” or “Painfully Dragging Blog Posts.” However, the point that the company is seemingly selling us is that there has been no heavy-duty publisher servicing serious sales of writing in this length. Magazines have the 10,000 and under range covered. Book publisher have the 50,000-word range covered (though I’ve seen plenty of shorter items).
Yes, Scribd and Docstoc have their own online attempts to service writers of all styles and lengths, but without the hardware and marketing power of a ScribdReader or DocstocReader, both outlets lack the full-spectrum service Amazon poses with its announcement.
The Web has been allowing the publishing of whatever you want for years and facilitated money-making with advertising and online purchases, but the difference here is the presentation of the end product: your stories go into a pretty device that retains some of the ritualistic elements of reading, which generate experiences that people are willing to spend money on. It’s hard to pay for a Web page. It’s not hard to pay for something with an element of “thingness” to it, even if that thingness is artificial (immutability has value). Then again, you can see a lot of Web content on a pretty device, so it’s not just that. It’s about the big picture: Amazon’s marketing power; its hardware; its store; its sales infrastructure. All of those together make this something new and exciting.
Again, immutability has value. With the Kindle, that 10,001 word blog post disappearing in updates and making you pennies in Google ad revenue might actually sell for $3, if people have the convenience, pleasure and thingness of reading it on the electronic reader. Will this mean the end of some Web writers focusing on generating value by fostering community (content is advertising, the business is in the connections and trust)? Will they abandon that endlessly-updating-the-blog-and-responding-to-comments approach for the simpler formula of 1) Write for a Long Time; 2) Sell Writing?
I have always been suspicious of the alarming uniformity of the thickness of novels lining the shelf at my neighborhood Barnes & Noble. Isn’t it surprising all of those different stories somehow fell into the right range? No more! Registers are ringing at all points along the word-length spectrum. What product will digital capitalism transform next? Music? Albums have already been dissected into songs for sale. Will the song be broken into choruses? Really, the chorus is the only part I ever consistently sing to, and that’s where all the fun is.
Here’s the only catch: Amazon’s experiment is going to involve a very overworked, e-mail submerged employee. You’ve got to send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered for publishing. What I would have done is made an online community, open to the world, of people who vote for writing that should be included in the “Singles” store. You know, provide some excerpts, then vote it up or down.
Money, greed and power – these things transform cultures that have the material and psychological infrastructure to reward individuals’ efforts to get ahead. Ahead of what? That’s a question for a different blog post.