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Monday, August 22, 2005

iPodding literature

Tyler Cowen points to a Washington Post story about how Amazon is signing up with authors and retailing their short stories for 49 cents per download. These are works, mind you, written exclusively for retail in an electronic format. Authors who have signed up for these include bestselling writers like Danielle Steele and Robin Cook, as well as the likes of Pico Iyer and Daniel Wallace.

I think this is an outstanding step in retailing books. Short stories hardly have a market these days, and short-story compilations don't sell much. By enabling readers to buy a story at a time at this fairly low price, Amazon is going to incentivise readers who might otherwise have been wary of spending US$ 10 for a compilation. It's great for established writers as well, who might well be downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, making them good money without having to go through a traditional publishing cycle.

Less well-known writers, of course, still need traditional publishers to market their works and turn their names into brands, even if it has become easier to self-publish. Perhaps Amazon should figure out a way to give any writer a way to create works that they can retail through an Amazon storefront, leaving the marketing of the book to the author. Let the means of (profitable) publishing reach the hands of the authors, and let them figure out how to attract people to their storefronts. The long tail of publishing will then get a lot longer.

Update: I wrote to Chris Anderson of The Long Tail for his views on this, and he wrote back:
I'd say that this actually would have no effect on the Long Tail at all. Self-publishing and electronic publishing has been available to all for a while (see and all the services provide an ISBN number, which allows any writer to be available on Amazon. So nothing new there. And the authors Amazon picked are all Head writers, ie, those who have no trouble getting published.

I think the low pricing is quite interesting, however. It should certainly grow the market for short stories.
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