Kindle Singles: Is Amazon Becoming the New Gatekeeper?


I originally wasn’t going to mention Kindle Singles here, as it seemed pretty well covered just about everywhere else. For those not in the know, Amazon announced a new format last week for shorter works. In their words: 

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch “Kindle Singles”—Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today’s announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.

The consensus here and there agrees that this is a splendid hing. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s read a mediocre non-fiction book that would make a magnificent essay. I’ve even written a few books where I had to add a certain amount of fluff. We needed enough words for a book, so that the price charged for the work would make the whole thing float. This marketing constraint no longer matters in the ebook world. Written works can be whatever length they need to be. And there is definitely a hole in the market for works longer than a solid article, but shorter than a full-fledged book. It’s amazing no one has called it out explicitly until now.

Then today I decided to visit this glorious Kindle Singles Store to see what was rising to the top of its bestseller list, only to realize that the coverage is really just about an announcement, not the actual product launch. There’s no Kindle Singles section of the Kindle Store, yet. The press release finishes with: “To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact digital-publications@amazon.com”.

That’s the most interesting part of this announcement. There are tons of novella-length works already in the Kindle Store. (Check out “Honolulu Hottie” by my writing buddy Lancer Kind for just one great example.)  Amazon seems to be explicitly calling on non-fiction writers, and trying to curate some big-name fiction authors for the launch. That raises many questions. Is Amazon setting itself up as a new gatekeeper? Will they ultimately make all submissions available? And who exactly is at the other end of this e-mail alias? What do they think constitutes a “serious writer”?

My hunch is Amazon is looking to collect well-known names to roll out with much fanfare at the store’s launch, and then they’ll open the floodgates to all takers. But it’s an interesting approach to the free-for-all market that has defined the Kindle Store from the start.

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