Singles for Kindles
If e-book singles had a theme song, it would be Britney Spears' "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." These quick and cheap e-reads — longer than a magazine article but shorter than a book at 15-90 pages and priced from 99 cents to $4.99 — did not exist a year ago, but now they are attracting lots of attention from publishers and readers.
Amazon, which basically invented the category, calls the single the "perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea." John Tayman, the CEO of publishing startup Byliner, which is producing original nonfiction singles, likens them to the reading equivalent of a movie: "Two hours later you feel like you've been entertained, you've been moved, you've been exposed to something you normally wouldn't have been and you have that sense of completion."
Established publishing houses are not sure what to make of the new category. A few have dipped a tentative toe in the waters, mostly as an experiment. With an obvious eye to satisfying long-time fans and attracting new readers, Delacorte Press packaged Lee Child's Second Son novella about a teenage Jack Reacher with a preview of Child's new Reacher novel. But Jodi Picoult's decision to bypass her traditional publisher Simon & Schuster to publish the single Leaving Home: Short Pieces directly with her agent Laura Gross suggests how disruptive singles could be to traditional publishing.
News organizations see singles as a way to generate more revenue from big stories. In August, The Guardian mixed old articles and new material for a single on News Corp.'s phone-hacking scandal while Vanity Fair wrapped a new introduction by editor Graydon Carter around 20 old articles for Rupert Murdoch: The Master Mogul of Fleet Street. Authors are attracted to the speed at which a single can reach the market. Says comedian and TV writer Rob Kutner, "I wanted to experiment with having an idea and taking it from conception to execution a lot faster. It's sorta a simpler model — this took me about six weeks from start to finish as opposed to the year-and-half for my book."
Here's a selection of 10 singles currently attracting attention:
The Future According to Me
By Rob Kutner (Amazon Digital, 99 cents)
The Conan and former Daily Show writer offers 35 hilarious and absurd short takes on the future featuring vegan zombies, Spacemall magazine, and the Kardashian Charitable Trust for the Remaining Viable Layer of Atmosphere.
By Max Lance (Amazon Digital, 99 cents)
A twentysomething guy goes on five really bad but really funny first dates with a fresh USC film school grad. It spent more than two weeks atop Amazon's singles best-seller list and got Lance an agent.
By Mike Albo (Amazon Digital, $1.99)
A semi-fictional and amusing account of how Albo became the "Silkwood of Swag" and lost his job with The New York Times over an ill-fated promotional junket.
By Lee Child (Delacorte Press, $1.99)
An original prequel finds a 13-year-old Jack Reacher on Okinawa in 1974 dealing with thieves, a family crisis, and the aftermath of the Vietnam war.
No Time Left
By David Baldacci (Hachette 99 cents)
Amazon describes this original short by the bestselling author as the love child of an Agatha Christie mystery and an Isaac Asimov sci-fi story.
Into the Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and High Water in Post-Earthquake Japan
By William T. Vollmann (Byliner $2.99)
A fascinating tour through the worst-hit areas of Japan by an award-winning writer. At its best it evokes John Hersey's classic Hiroshima.
The Baby Chase: An Adventure in Fertility by Holly Finn
Nearing 40, single and successful Holly Finn decided to have a baby on her own using in vitro fertilization. Three years later she's still trying. A moving, honest, and at times darkly funny account of the costs of trying — and not succeeding (yet) — at having a baby later in life.
Lifted by Evan Ratliff
(Atavist, $1.99 for Kindle, $2.99 for iPad)
A thrilling account of a famous 2009 Swedish bank heist that netted $150 million. For an extra buck the iPad version rethinks the book by including security cam footage, interactive maps, and a cool audio narration.
The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA
By Taylor Branch (Byliner, $3.99)
The civil rights historian's examination of the myth of the "student-athlete" and argument for paying college athletes was an Atlantic article in September and an e-book single in October.
Scalper: Inside the World of a Professional Ticket Broker
By Clancy Martin and Hank Chilton (Amazon Digital, $1.99)
Chilton, a TV writer (Nip/Tuck) and Martin, a philosophy professor, team up to tell about the day-in-the-life of a big-time San Francisco scalper.