In his refreshing and thought-provoking presentation on the opening day of IDPF Digital Book (June 4-5, 2012) at BEA 2012, Richard Nash cited the amazing statistic that 16 million people claimed to be engaged in “writing” on the last US census. His point was that publishers have to try to monetize these 16 million beyond selling them books—publishers need to sell services. In the UK, Faber Academy, started by Faber and Faber, has already billed more than £1 million for the creative writing classes it offers. Wannabe-writers are all too ready to avail themselves of publishers’ acknowledged expertise in the form of classes, jacket design, dinner with authors, and more. Publishers engage in innumerable functions that can be unbundled and marketed to these 16 million engaged consumers.
Laura Hazard Owen of paidContent did a very thorough presentation on e-singles: who’s doing them; where they’re selling; why they make sense; revenue shares; risks; etc. The strongest point is that this is a native digital format and one that truly suits the technology. Too often, journalists have been limited by the norms of their venues; even a New Yorker article rarely runs beyond 10,000 words whereas e-singles are generally 5000-30,000 words. And when there’s been interest in expanding an article into a potential book, too often it has had to be artificially lengthened in order to justify a book price. E-Singles are a natural solution that allows for timely publication at what Amazon describes as “the natural length.” E-Singles are also proving to be a very effective promotional tool for fiction writers with upcoming new works; the Lee Child “prequel” which was released a month before his most recent hardcover is the bestselling single to date.
There are start-ups in this category such as The Atavist, Byliner, and Now & Then, as well as book and magazine publishers that are repurposing content for this market. It’s not clear that the start-ups can make a viable business from singles alone; The Atavist also licenses a content management system which it says generates more than five times the revenue as the singles. Obviously for established brands and book publishers, this format can represent incremental income—even if not huge, due to the necessarily low prices ($.99-$4.99 with the vast majority under $3)—and carries a relatively low cost of entry. Interestingly, both magazine and book publishers have seen value in what the other has to offer, resulting in a number of partnerships, such those as those between Random House and Politico; Hachette and Bloomberg Business Week; Open Road and Seventeen.