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When Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) launched the Kindle Singles program a little over a year ago, nobody knew whether there was a market for e-books that are shorter than full-length books but longer than most magazine articles. It was not an idea that had been tried before. Since Kindle Singles’ launch, other publishers have also tried the format, but it’s unclear well these mini e-books are selling.
Recently, though, Amazon shared some data about Kindle Singles with me, and allowed Kindle Singles authors to share their sales figures with me as well.
Amazon launched Kindle Singles in January 2011 as a home for “compelling ideas expressed at their natural length.” There are now 165 Singles, and Amazon adds around three more each week. Authors and publishers have to apply to have their work included. Most Kindle Singles are exclusive to Amazon. Others come from traditional publishers — like Random House and Hachette — or new e-singles publishers like Byliner and The Atavist, and are sold across platforms, not just on Amazon. While Barnes & Noble and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) recently launched sections for e-singles on their sites, they don’t sign original authors and provide little of the marketing support that Kindle Singles authors receive.
How Well Are They Selling?
Amazon says that in the 14 months the program has been running, it has sold over two million Kindle Singles. Seventy percent of each sale goes to the author or publisher, and Amazon keeps 30 percent. Amazon wouldn’t disclose its total revenues from those two million singles, but the minimum price of a Single is $0.99 and most are $1.99 (the author or publisher sets the price). So with an average price of $1.87 multiplied by two million, a rough estimate of Amazon’s 30-percent cut is $1.12 million. (How much are some authors making? See our post later this morning.)
How does this compare to other e-singles sites? Total sales through the Kindle Singles store dwarf those at e-singles sites like Byliner and The Atavist, but the Kindle Singles list is much larger. Byliner has published 18 “Byliner Originals” (15 of those available as Kindle Singles) and told me it “expects to sell over 1 million copies this year” across Amazon, Apple, Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Kobo and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS). The Atavist has published 13 e-singles (12 of those available as Kindle Singles) and would only say that it has sold “over 100,000” copies.
A Home For Unknown Authors?
Kindle Singles editor David Blum, an adjunct professor at Columbia and former editor-in-chief of the Village Voice and New York Press, sees Kindle Singles as a place to promote the work of unknown authors, including some of his former writing students. In my conversation with Blum, he often described Kindle Singles in relation to the world of magazine writing. “There are a lot of obstacles in the traditional magazine world,” he says, calling Kindle Singles a “middle ground between magazine and book writing,” with “the shards of the magazine industry on one side” and “the decline in the publishing industry and magazine industry working against writers with ideas that don’t fit easily into one or the other niche.”
The program receives around 50 unsolicited submissions a week, and just a handful of those are accepted. Considering that three new Singles are published each week, that is an acceptance rate of six percent (probably less since Blum also solicits some titles himself).
Of course, many of the writers in the program aren’t newbies to the book world. Amazon gave me a list of the top 10 Kindle Singles bestsellers (by units sold), and seven of them are works by previously published big-name bestselling authors: Lee Child, Stephen King, David Baldacci, Dean Koontz, Karin Slaughter, Jodi Picoult, Jon Krakauer. (Picoult’s “Leaving Home” and Slaughter’s “Thorn in My Side” are only available as Kindle Singles; the other titles are not exclusive to Amazon.)
As the Kindle Singles store gets larger — and more brand-name writers decide to take part — individual authors may have a harder time standing out. Right now, one of Kindle Singles’ biggest benefits for authors — one that differentiates it from Nook Snaps and Apple Quick Reads – is the heavy promotion the list gets on the site. “It sits right on a level with many other big sections of the store,” Russ Grandinetti, VP Kindle Content, said. “If you’re on that list, it’s a lot easier to get noticed.” Kindle Singles are also sometimes included in Amazon’s e-mail newsletters and Kindle Daily Deal program.
There are 165 Kindle Singles now. If three more are added every week, that would put the total around 280 titles by the end of this year, decreasing the program’s showcase effect.
All of the authors that I spoke with enjoy working with Blum. Many say they see him as a literary presence within Amazon — a tastemaker. It appears that he has been able to operate independently; the one other editor working with him used to be his intern.
“Let’s say you work for an underfunded literary magazine and your private mission is to promote literary good tastes and writers you think are talented and having something meaningful to contribute to the culture,” said Oliver Broudy, a former Paris Review managing editor who has written two Kindle Singles. “Now let’s say you have millions and millions of dollars to devote to that cause. That could be the Kindle Singles program. Dave is accountable to the rest of Amazon, but I do believe there’s something of that spirit in his enterprise.”
But will the lit-mag vibe survive if the operation becomes bigger and more commercial? I asked Grandinetti if he thinks more big-name authors will join Kindle Singles. “I hope so,” he said. “The more that publishers think about this as a companion opportunity to their main activity; the more that editors start to understand this is an option for things that come across their desk-that’s a real opportunity.”
Kindle Singles’ Function Within Amazon
Grandinetti wouldn’t disclose Kindle Singles’ share of total Kindle revenues, but said it’s “going to grow a lot, and that will partially be a function of how attractive writers and publishers find the format relative to more traditional books.” When considering the submissions to Kindle Singles versus the titles self-published through the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, “we don’t have a pre-conceived goal of how much ends up in Singles versus [in the broader store],” he said.
Kindle Singles and Amazon’s other publishing initiatives sometimes feed each other. Blum refers authors who aren’t accepted to Kindle Singles to KDP. One Kindle Single, Evan Rail’s “Why Beer Matters,” was originally published on KDP and “we just moved that over,” Blum said. Twenty-nine Kindle Singles are already in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which allows Amazon Prime members who own Kindles to borrow one e-book a month.
I asked the authors I spoke with — many of whom had also published full-length books with traditional publishers — if they’d consider publishing future books with Amazon. They all said they’d at least give Amazon a look at full-length projects, because of their experience with Kindle Singles.
In that way, Kindle Singles allows Amazon to draw in authors who deem the program low-risk because it’s not in conflict with other publisher relationships they may have. Those authors may then stick around, especially if they believe that doing a full-length project with Amazon has the potential to be as lucrative as Kindle Singles have been for many of them.
How lucrative? See the next post.