Summary:

Publishers and record labels are experimenting with serialized ebooks and EPs, which they sell at a discount to entice customers. But what happens when the full-length version goes on sale?

kindle serials with Jeff Bezos
photo: Jenny 8. Lee

The Wall Street Journal has a package of stories this morning on “bite-size entertainment” — short movies, albums and serialized ebooks. These formats are optimized for mobile devices and aim to appeal to busy consumers with a lot of different media competing for their attention. But to me, the big question is cost: How much can publishers charge for this shorter content, and how do prices change if and when a full-length version is released?

Amazon launched Kindle Serials last September. Users pay just once, and as new installments of the books are published, readers receive them automatically. VP Jeff Belle tells the WSJ, “Early data indicate that shorter is probably better, and a one-week cadence works best.” Publishers not using Amazon’s pay-once model may have trouble convincing readers to shell out a couple of dollars at a time for serials, since depending on how many installments there are, the price can end up being more than the cost of a regular ebook.

Amazon has apparently decided to up-charge for the full version. For example, according to the WSJ, the most successful Kindle Serial so far is Andrew Peterson’s “Option to Kill,” which has sold over 80,000 copies — but Amazon is now only selling it as a $3.99 full-length ebook, rather than a $1.99 serial. (There’s no breakdown between the number of copies the book sold as a serial and the number it sold as a full book.) I checked out a few other books that started as Kindle Serials and were sold for $1.99, and Amazon is now selling the completed ebook versions of those, too, for $3.99 (with the paperback versions costing several dollars more). I’ve asked Amazon for a comment and will update this story when I hear back.

Some record labels are trying something similar. Universal’s Republic Records released Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men’s digital EP, with four songs, for $4.29, and it sold 55,000 copies. When the full-length album was released four months later, listeners who’d already bought the EP could then use the iTunes “complete my album” feature to get the other six songs on it for $2.70. Republic Records has since removed the EP from iTunes, and the full-length album is $9.99 — so early listeners saved $3. Avery Lipman, president of Republic Records, tells the WSJ, “It’s almost like layaway. The EP is kind of like a mayfly. Its purpose is to get up and birth an album, then die.”

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