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Amazon's Kindle Singles Are a Not-So-Secret Route to Mega Sales

Obvious knocks to the name notwithstanding, Amazon's (AMZN) new Kindle Singles (delivered via the company's sexy-sounding "Whispernet") might just be a perfect match for devourers of digital reads that fall between full-length book and a lengthy New Yorker article.

The Singles selection of titles runs the gamut between fact and fiction (think a pre-apocalyptic love story alongside an in-depth investigation of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai) and range between 5,000 to 30,000 words (translation: about 10-20 e-pages). Amazon's asking price: $.99 to $2.99.

Though attractive to customers, that 99 cent price point has triggered plenty of hand-wringing and speculation that the book business may soon go the way of music in the era of iTunes. Indeed, in the depths of the recession Nielsen SoundScan found that 2008 was the worst year for music sales since 1991. The numbers have rebounded slightly since then, but digital track and album downloads continue to post the biggest gains.

So do Singles spell the death of traditional publishing? Or do they even place another nail in the coffin? No and yes. That nail is driving straight at the heart of publishing's business model, something's that's being forced to evolve since the introduction of the e-book and digital readers.

With some Singles, Amazon is working with author directly. Take Pete Hamill's They Are Us. The essay on immigration was supposed to come out as a 50,000-word digital original from Little, Brown last fall. But according to Publisher's Marketplace, Hamill didn't deliver due to his wife's illness (registration required). The Singles version comes in at 14 pages (presumably shorter) and sets customers back a buck and Mr. Hamill could be getting a direct cut of the sales. It's a neat sidestep that puts Amazon in the publisher's seat and takes competition with them out of the sales equation.

It's a potential boon for authors, too. Don Linn, publishing professional and former CEO of Consortium Book Sales told me:

Kindle Singles is a nice way for journalists and writers to expand their universe of readers and make a little pocket money along the way, though it's probably neither the 'savior' of long-form journalism that some have suggested nor the next step on the slippery slope to an iTunes $0.99 model for all print content that others are hand-wringing about. Instapaper and others have proven there's a demand for this kind of writing. Publishers and authors are willing and able to "chunk" digital content easily and inexpensively. On balance, I think this is a boon, not a threat, to writers and publishers...another channel to sell their work with minimal additional cost to play.

Not to mention nudging publishers that much closer to re-tooling their business models to allow authors (not just the Dan Browns of the world) to make more money.

As for Amazon, it may have tapped a mobile sweet spot that will only add to sales. Read a full-length novel on your iPhone? Umm, no. Reading a full-length article on a BlackBerry? Yes, please. Let the downloading frenzy begin.

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