One of the unsung advancements of the Internet age is that distribution models no longer dominate the structure of how we disseminate our ideas. In the pre-Internet era, the forms of media strongly dictated the nature of the content on it. You couldn’t simply publish a 1,000 word essay — it needed to be bundled with a bunch of other content, either in a magazine, or a book. Music was limited to 45 minutes (on a 33 RPM album), 75 minutes on a CD, 5 minutes or so to a side on a single. If you wanted to publish a book, you had to come up with at least 150 pages worth of material, even if your idea really didn’t sustain much past, say, 25 pages. This is one of the reasons why most business books suck so bad — there’s one decent idea, and then 90% of filler to make it seem worth putting on a shelf and charging $20 for it.
The internet has made infinitely variable the size of a piece of media. While some think this means everything is getting smaller, and leading to short-attention spans, that’s not really what’s happening. What’s happening is that things are getting right-sized — the shape of the media is appropriate to the content within. We don’t need bloated business books. Or record albums with 2 good songs and 12 unnecessary tracks.
I think this is why I think Kindle Singles is so brilliant. Admittedly, we’ve already seen this model in some e-publishing, but Amazon, with it’s unparalleled retail presence, has the opportunity to make this stick. It’s an inevitable progression of what’s happening in publishing. I do suspect it will take people a while to be comfortable paying $1.99 for a “single”, even though they’ll gladly pay $20 for a book, just because the novelty will give people pause. But once there are a few Singles that prove the model (and get people excited about the opportunity), I think this could be a huge opportunity for authors.