Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kindle Singles and the future of publishing

The print publishing industry thinks a lot has changed in the past 20 years,  but they haven't seen anything yet. The transformation from print to all-digital publishing will happen very quickly.  We are months and years, not decades, from when electronic distribution on Kindles and iPads becomes the mainstream format of choice.  The TED people just announced TEDBooks, available for about $3 each as Kindle Singles, and I can't wait to see many more.

Creating and then publishing to Kindle is  straightforward: create a document in Microsoft Word (though, curiously, they want you to save in the old .doc format, rather than the much more flexible and modern .docx format), test the formatting on Mobipocket Reader, and upload to Amazon.  Besides the odd prohibition against the .docx format, your text also must be free from special fonts or character formats like bullets. You can include .JPEG photos, but you need to be sure they look okay on the Kindle greyscale screen.

Kindle ebooks have several big advantages over internet web sites or blogs:

  • The content is final.  It can be referenced later as a single, fixed work. There may be updates or corrections, just like there can be a new edition of a hardcover book, but the original stands as an unchanging point of reference.
  • It can be viewed offline.
  • Standardized display and viewing conventions.  It can be easily printed when necessary and it "makes sense" when printed because it has an clearly identifiable start and finish.

If the end user cost were 99 cents or lower, or if there were the equivalent of completely free content, then eBook publishing will be open to many more new applications:

  • Class notes, published by the instructor or a motivated student note-taker
  • Church or other non-profit organizational bulletins and newsletters.
  • Company catalogs or detailed product descriptions
  • Help and product manuals
  • Christmas newsletters, either on behalf of an organization or a family
  • Special reports.

In fact, to really take off we need the equivalent to print publishing of what podcasting is to audiobook publishing: free, easily publishable and discoverable content that's as easy to produce as it is to consume. As with audiobooks, there may be a lot of garbage there too, but eventually some quality brands will appear and the publishing world will never be the same.

Evolution of Readers

(photo by John Blyberg)