Amazon’s “Kindle Singles”: saviour of the genre short fiction scene?

Paul Raven @ 13-10-2010

Hard to say for sure, really, given that it hasn’t even launched yet, but Amazon’s plans for the “Kindle Singles” service – which in essence appears to be ebooks of the long short-story to novella length – certainly has the potential to put money in the pockets of genre fiction’s clade of short story writers. The shrinking circulations of the Dead-Tree Big Three aren’t looking like a long-term prospect for the short form’s survival, and hell knows that recent experiences right here have demonstrated that making the free-to-read webzine model sustainable is no picnic, either (though I hold hope for better-funded projects such as Lightspeed and Tor.com going the distance, alongside established non-profit outfits like Strange Horizons).

The real (and as yet unanswered) question is whether people would read (and pay for) short stories if they knew where to find them; the search-term browsability of a platform like Amazon certainly offers the potential to put short stories by known names in front of potential readers who might otherwise be ignorant of the form, and there’s plenty of good (albeit as yet entirely theoretical) arguments that short stories are better suited to the when-you-get-a-moment reading habits of the modern reader. I suspect the most important factor will be pricing, with a splash of gatekeepering and/or curating to filter for quality; if a writer hits the right price point and has a bit of luck with word-of-mouth, the potential is there to cut out the magazine middle-men and reach an untapped audience.

My concern (as a fussy reader and a critic) is that the market’s definition of quality will probably differ wildly from my own; the success of Dan Brown is a clear indication that this is inevitable. But if big digital sales of awful literature support an ecosystem that lets the little guys make a living, well, I think I’ll be able to live with it. Plus ça change, non?

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6 Responses to “Amazon’s “Kindle Singles”: saviour of the genre short fiction scene?”

  1. tobias buckell says:

    Doesn’t anyone remember Amazon Shorts? Everyone’s talking about this as if its predetermined to do well just b/c it’s amazon when the last attempt cratered. Mostly due to the fact that readers really don’t like short fiction… go look at reviews of Novellas that are sold, both print and e-versions, via Amazon, and half the feedback is complaints that it’s ‘short’ and ‘not a novel.’

  2. Chad says:

    I agree. I won’t be buying any short stories/novellas. I hate them. You just get interested in the story and characters…and the story ends.

  3. Babylon says:

    I really enjoy Dan Brown’s work. People who confuse it with non-fiction are silly, but he writes a good page turner and figuring out what is really going on is a fun exercise, like a mystery story.

  4. Paul Raven says:

    Tobias, Chad; agreed that the Amazon probably won’t make inroads into the market that doesn’t read short form fiction already, but it might just provide an economically viable place for the small scene that remains. Hell knows that, at this scale of readership, advertising just won’t foot the bills…

    Babylon; different strokes for different folks! Unusually among critics, I’m unconvinced that there is any truly objective definition of what is good and what is bad. All I know is that more than a page of Brown’s writing makes me want to take a red pen to the page and start editing, and that disengages me completely from whatever story he may be trying to tell. But there must be something to it, or he’d not be selling so many books, right? 🙂

  5. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Damned if I can figure out what anybody sees in Dan Brown’s books. They’re just unreadable. I’ve read plenty of adventure stories (I love adventure stories) that are well written, so I know it doesn’t have to be so bad. I really did try to read one of Brown’s books once, and I was ready to throw it against a wall by the end of three action-packed pages. Totally mystifies me why it sells.

    As for the continuation of short stories: that’s what your imagination is for! I went on at some length about that today on the Book View Cafe blog, a result of doing the Mind Meld at SF Signal on perfect story anthologies.

  6. Bojangles (There was a man...) says:

    Co-sign with Tobias & Co.

    My concern is that…I guess it’s the price expectation on the part of readers. This is beating a dead horse, but it seems that (at least on Amazon, which I expected to happen) they expect full 400 page novels for pennies or for free.

    Short fiction is PERFECT for ereaders, a 400 page novel is just too long to me. I write historical fiction which entails much research among other things. I’ll take my manuscripts through writer’s workshops & critique groups before publishing them on Amazon. But it seems like length-wise people want ebooks to mirror paper books, except they want to complain that the price shouldn’t mirror paper. I’m thinking of skipping ebooks altogether & selling the work as print only at the higher price point.