The emergence of e-book singles


Barnes & Noble is now publishing its own version of e-book singles called NOOK Snaps.

Barnes & Noble is now publishing its own version of e-book singles called NOOK Snaps.

By Oon Yeoh

Oon YeohIf you are old enough to remember vinyl records, you would recall that there were such things as singles. These were smaller disks that contained, as its name indicates, a single song on each side. The purpose of the single was to allow music fans to buy just the hit song rather than the whole album.

In today’s age of digital music, the concept of the single is a bit redundant as every song in an album could technically be a single. If you buy your music from say, iTunes, you don’t have to buy whole albums. You can buy only specific songs that you really like.

This concept, which gives consumer more choice, is now being adopted by the book publishing industry. Amazon started it first with the launch of its Kindle Singles concept which was launched in 2011 (pic). These are basically very short stories, sometimes only 20 or 30 pages long.

They can be adapted from an existing longer work, or come from a chapter in a book, or they could be specially written pieces of work. They are small e-books and priced very cheaply at around US$1.99 (RM6.35) each.

Although the prices for e-book singles are low, the emergence of this brand new e-book segment is a boon for writers, especially non-fiction writers, who dominate the e-book singles scene.

According to Thin Reads, a website dedicated to the tracking of this new sector, the number of e-book singles published in the third quarter increased by an impressive 27 per cent compared to the second quarter of this year. (There is no reliable data from 2012 as e-book singles were not properly tracked back then – that is how new this segment is).

The e-book singles market is being warmly embraced by niche publishers. Thin Reads reports on progress made by DAWNS Digest (which focuses on humanitarian journalism), The New New South (which only publishes stories about the South) and Fierce Ink Press (which produces short fiction and non-fiction pieces by Atlantic Canadian authors who write for young adults).

You know this is a hot trend when your rivals jump onto the bandwagon. And this past June, that is exactly what happened when Barnes & Noble – Amazon’s chief rival – began publishing their own version of e-book singles called NOOK Snaps.

This is not a development that’s just happening in the US. For example, HarperCollins India, the second-largest English-language trade publisher in the country, has just launched a brand new e-book imprint called Harper 21 to celebrate its 21st anniversary.

Consisting of exactly 21 e-book singles from a range of genres, the titles can be downloaded from Amazon India. Most contain fewer than 20 pages. They make for a quick and easy read – which could be just right for the short attention span of today’s digerati.

“Most of the content is new,” says V.K. Karthika, publisher of HarperCollins Publishers India, “except about 15% of it has been either reworked from existing material or tweaked from titles that are forthcoming.”

But it’s not just book publishers that are getting into the game. Magazine publishers want a piece of the action too. Thin Reads reports that magazines like Discover, Philadelphia Magazine, Fast Company, The Atlantic, Esquire, GQ, National Geographic and Publishers Weekly have all decided to publish e-book singles.

And perhaps in taking a leaf out of the magazine industry’s revenue stream, the e-book single Coronado High by Joshuah Bearman managed to get sponsorship from Warby Parker, an eyewear manufacturer. This could signal the start of a new approach business model for e-book singles. Perhaps in the future, authors don’t even have to sell their e-book singles. They can give it away provided they have a sponsor who believes in them.


Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

Leave a Comment