Kindle Singles is brilliant

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.

We’ll see.

Better Late Than Never: Hoop Dreams

I watch TV when I exercise. Typically I watch one hour television programs (which actually run about 40 minutes). However, television programmers seem to be losing the ability of showing compelling fare. So, care of Netflix’ “Watch Instantly” service, I’ve been discovering media that has passed me by. My most recent Netflix selection was Hoop Dreams (Netflix, IMDB), a documentary film about two high school freshmen from Chicago’s inner city who are angling to make it in the NBA. As a fan of both basketball and doc films, it’s pathetic that I has not seen this sooner — I think the 171 minute (!) running time scared me away, as it seemed like such a commitment.

It turns out you can break that up into about 4 exercise-length viewings, and that ended up working out quite well. There’s a naturally episodic quality to the film, as it follow Arthur and William year by year. The story the filmmakers uncovered is remarkable, with twists and turns, ups and downs, highs and lows, and very real drama. Hoop Dreams is about so many things — family, race issues, class issues, basketball, motherhood, fatherhood, coming of age — but really what it’s about is America, thick and thin, better and worse. You have to give huge kudos to the filmmakers who stuck with this for four-plus years (and doubtless had so many hours of tape shot that figuring out how to pull together a story must have been beyond daunting), but you also have to show respect for the the film’s two subjects, who make *something* of themselves against extraordinary countervailing pressures.

Anyway, don’t be like me. If you have any inkling of interest in this film, but haven’t seen it yet, do not put off watching it.

Jules starts to stutter

Over the last few days, Stacy and I noticed that Jules had some trouble getting his words out. He’s doing some rather classic stuttering — repeating the initial sound of a word at the start of a sentence.

Being first-time parents, we had what is doubtless the universal response, “Should we be worried?” It turns out: no. Stuttering is common in toddlers, as, it seems, their brain moves faster than their vocal apparatus can support.

Child development is fascinating to observe. Such stuttering is simply the most obvious expression of how Jules’ various systems advance at differing rates. Jules is tall for his age, but his muscle coordination hasn’t caught up, leading to a lot of stumbling, tumbling, and just outright falling. (Though, given his parents’ coordination, this might be a lifelong deficit.)