Can Kindle Singles revolutionize reading?

With prices as low as $0.99, Amazon's Kindle Singles offer a new way of sampling and consuming literature and journalism.

Amazon hopes to draw readers into what some are calling "the no-man’s land between a magazine article and a short book."

The essay, the short story, the novella, and long-form journalism finally have a place to call home. It’s called Kindle Singles, and it’s Amazon’s latest program designed to showcase shorter works left behind by traditional publishers.

Amazon hopes it will bring new revenue streams and offer something neither Apple’s iPad nor Barnes & Noble’s Nook can – but will it catch on with readers already deluged with a glut of reading material and a half-dozen platforms on which to read it?

Amazon markets Kindle Singles as “Compelling ideas expressed at their natural length.” They’re written works between 5,000 and 30,000 words long (“the no-man’s land between a magazine article and a short book,” observes Wired) and sell from $0.99 to $4.99.

The first batch of short works includes a piece about an elaborate bank heist in “Lifted,” Congolese rebel camps in “The Invisible Enemy,” and Jodi Picoult’s moving portrayal of family in “Leaving Home.” The mix of fiction and nonfiction pieces also offers works by Rich Cohen, Pete Hamill, and Darin Strauss.

The big question - can Kindle Singles revolutionize reading?

For starters, many industry watchers think Kindle can spur e-book sales by lowering the price of e-books well below the typical $10 price for an e-book download.

And offering short works at $0.99 à la iTunes could encourage an entirely new way of sampling and consuming literature and journalism. Readers can download interesting pieces in seconds and store them in a virtual library to read over lunch break or on the train ride home. Newspapers publishers may be eyeing readers’ reactions to Kindle Singles to gauge whether they might offer the same à la carte downloads with traditional newspaper articles, an oft-cited solution to the industry’s woes.

But there’s a more profound impact on journalism and literature. Kindle Singles may be the first mainstream marketplace for long-form journalism, essays, and single short stories, now that most magazines have dropped long pieces for bite-sized articles to match readers' increasingly bite-sized attention spans. And indeed, many of the pieces Amazon is currently offering on its new program are longer non-fiction works written by journalists who no doubt couldn’t find a place to publish their 5,000 and 8,000-word exposés. “Amazon Launches Kindle Singles, Saves Long-Form Journalism,” announces a recent Wired article.

But of course, the only way that Kindle Singles can achieve such a goal as lofty as saving long-form journalism – much less revolutionizing reading – is if readers embrace the new product.

Right now, that’s still a big if.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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