The Short-Form Content Resurgence

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

short form content, content, amazon, kindle, audibleI remember the first time I heard the phrase “info snacking,” back in 2007. It was when the Kindle launched and Jeff Bezos said his newfangled device would slow the info snacking trend and enable deeper engagement with content.

The Kindle platform certainly launched the ebook revolution, but it’s interesting that it didn’t halt short-form content momentum. In fact, I’d argue that info snacking is more popular than ever before and, ironically, that popularity is largely driven by Bezos’s own company, Amazon.

Remember the late 1990’s, when it seemed like publishers could generate digital income by selling individual book chapters? Once upon a time, I too thought that might be a viable model, but in hindsight it’s clear books and chapters can’t be treated like albums and songs. Most books are written so that the individual chapters are too reliant on each other, thereby making them far less valuable individually.

We need to think about taking things in the opposite direction, though. Rather than tearing apart a book and trying to sell individual chapters, content needs to be developed in short, granular formats so that each piece can be sold on its own and can be remixed with other granular pieces. And while this is mostly true for non-fiction, I can see scenarios where it also has potential for some fiction works, as well.

Short-form content success is all around us. Amazon launched Kindle Singles several years ago, and the program has grown to more than 2,000 titles today. A few days ago, they announced a program called Singles Classics, in which they’re breathing new life into older short-form evergreen content from the pre-digital era. And earlier this month, they launched a short-form initiative within one of their audio subsidiaries called Audible Channels.

All of this simply reflects the fact that we’re all pressed for time but we still want to consume content. Sure, there’s nothing quite like fully immersing yourself in a long book written by a wonderful storyteller. But these short-form services are simply addressing our craving to be hyper-efficient, aware of the latest trends in our jobs/careers and always up to date on worldly news.

The movement isn’t going away, so what is your organization doing to address it? As you think about that question, be careful to look beyond written content. I finally decided to buy one of those Amazon Tap devices, and it’s only reinforced my earlier belief that voice UIs and audio content consumption will be important models in the future.


This article first appeared on Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies.


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One thought on “The Short-Form Content Resurgence

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Years ago, I was a beta tester for Amazon Shorts, which I seem to recall as the name they gave to the idea of dribbling out a book, a chapter at a time, on a subscription basis. At one level the idea seemed to make sense. Authors could derive income while they wrote rather than after completing an entire book. Given how many of them struggle to get by, that was good. Also, readers who were fans of an author wouldn’t have to wait as long.

    I’m not sure why the idea fizzled. I bailed out very vocally when participating required signing a draconian non-disclosure agreement. I had no problem with not discussing the beta project itself while I was participating. But this agreement was to apply to all author participating in the Shorts program itself. I pointed out to my Amazon contact that being in Shorts would not give an author any insider knowledge of Amazon. The agreement was little more than an effort to muzzle authors, putting them at a legal disadvantage if they criticized Amazon for any reason.

    To her credit, she raised my issue with Amazon’s in-house lawyer responsible for it. He refused to change it. When I researched him, I discovered that he’d formerly been the lawyer for a sports team. I suspected that such agreements were the norm in that industry to prevent employees from revealing corporate coverups of misdeeds by players (i.e. rapes). That had no application to the benign world of Amazon Shorts, but perhaps he’d grown so paranoid before he came to Amazon that he couldn’t change his thinking.

    After that, I lost touch with the program, so I’m not sure why it died. Authors may have concluded that, despite the monetary advantages of getting paid by the chapter, the program had a huge downside. It prevented authors from making changes to earlier chapters as they wrote the later ones. In a sense, they’d have to complete the entire book before they released any chapters. That negated the entire purpose of the program for all but the sloppiest (i.e. James Patterson-like) of authors.

    The real issue behind these schemes where Amazon plays all the roles from publisher to exclusive retailer is like a situation that hit the early passenger industry. I have been told that in the mid-1930s, Pratt-Whitney, which made the most reliable engines, Boeing, which made planes used by airlines, and United, one of the major airlines, were all branches of the same holding company. With P&W engines in short supply, Boeing got a steady supply, while other airplane manufacturers had to wait in line. Further down the line, United got the latest aircraft from Boeing before its competitors. At that point, the Feds stepped in and broke the three into separate companies.

    Long-term, I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar happens to Amazon. Recently, I came across a Ingram/Lightning Source POD book that shipped from Amazon only after a several-week delay. B&N had that same book, also printed by Ingram/Lightning Source, and offered to ship it in a couple of days. B&N wasn’t being speedy. Lightning Source will handle two-day shipping for any retailer. Amazon was simply introducing a deliberate, for-no-legitimate-reason delay in POD books that weren’t being printed by their CreateSpace. The P&W/Boeing/United parallel is rather obvious.

    And in a similar fashion, selling books only through Amazon (directly or indirectly) looks a bit like contriving to have only one airline flying from San Diego to San Francisco. It shows a distinct lack of healthy competition. Personally, I wonder why authors allow themselves to be chained to such contracts. Slavery, however voluntary, is still slavery.

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