Amazon Singles Program Pushes Print Publications Closer To Irrelevance

Last Updated Oct 13, 2010 8:14 AM EDT

Amazon (AMZN) announced its Singles program, which, in Amazon's words, will be a place to publish Kindle books "that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book." It is a reminder that long-form journalism isn't in danger, but the print publishers of it are very much in trouble.

To be fair, long-form journalism magazines like Harpers and The Atlantic are not traditionally money makers; you could almost hear the trumpets sounding when the New Yorker actually made a profit in 2005. And the celebrating, obviously, was right before the recession, and now long-form publications are losing the ads they had and, in some cases, struggling to stay open.

The problem is that the digital realm hasn't exactly received the already stodgy long-form print publications with open arms. In particular, digital big dog Apple (APPL) hasn't been very flexible on the content pricing. As BNet Second Guessing contributor Marion Maneker notes, newspapers like the WSJ are arguing over price, while most magazines, after taking months to get on the popular iPad, still haven't been able to establish a subscription model. Readers are still forced to buy the issues a la carte at full newsstand price even if they are print subscribers -- but the publishers are really the ones paying. For instance, the New Yorker finally released its solid iPad app with much fanfare (complete with a Sofia Coppola-directed short film starting hipster actor Jason Schwartzman) only to have it be ripped to shreds in the Apple Store because of the buy-it-twice pricing scheme: Out of 1665 ratings, 1277 are 1 out of 5 stars.

Compare the clunky New Yorker experience to what innovators have been bringing to narrative nonfiction readers. A prime example is Flipboard, the Silicon Valley wunderkind that consolidates Twitter, Facebook and blog RSS feeds into a clean, magazine-like package on the iPad. The feeds can be modified based on preferences, automatically updated whenever there is a web connection. One of the best feeds is from Longform.org, which showcases the best features from not only stalwarts like GQ and Esquire but from Tumblr blogs, alternative weeklies and personal websites. The iPad-specific Flipboard and the feed-based Longform.org (available on multiple platforms) show that it makes sense to embrace the new medium and publish the content in a way that is appropriate for it, as opposed to shoehorning in an old model.

With less space in the traditional print publications, journalists have been taking to the digital realm for their works for years in blogs and other self-published materials. The Amazon Singles program just happens to put a brand on it. That said, the new program makes it even easier for long-form journalists to access all Kindle users, which, no doubt, is an audience equal to, if not great than, the average narrative magazine. Amazon is slowly turning the platform itself into its own low barrier to entry magazine.

Photo courtesy of Ollie Crafoord // CC 2.0

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