It’s somewhat ironic that “short” and “long” are both being used to describe a length of non-fiction writing that I believe will change book and magazine publishing as significantly as anything we’ve seen since Amazon.com first came online.
“Long” is used by those who are discovering there’s a lot of incredibly well-written “longform” non-fiction on the internet that can be enjoyed if saved to a friendly-to-read format (for extended reading on an iPad or Kindle) using InstaPaper, Readability or Read it Later. Those “long” articles tend to be in the 5,000-10,000 word range — a word-count cap that’s due, primarily, to the constraints imposed because they were first written and edited for print magazines.
“Short” is used to describe a length of ebook being marketed through the storefront of the Kindle Store called “Kindle Singles.” (I love their use of the term “natural length.”) Amazon describes Kindle Singles ebooks as, “well researched, well argued, and well illustrated books between 5,000 and 30,000 words.” (They don’t describe them as Spam.)
Another way to think of this: “Longform” is the length that certain indepth, non-fiction articles would be published if they weren’t edited originally to the length imposed by the constraints of a print magazine. And “Shortform” or “Singles” are the length that the same article would be published if it didn’t have to be bloated up to fit into the economic requirements (say, 75,000 words) of the print book publishing business.
So here’s the long and short of it: Somewhere between 5,000 and 30,000 words, there seems to be a new book format that is, to quote Goldilocks, “just right” for a marketplace that has been created by the success of the Kindle/iPad.
I know it’s right for me, as I have become a voracious reader (and purchaser) of this length book (and/or article).
And today, there is news that gives me even more hope that the economic potential of this format may be going mainstream.
Last month, I wrote a post titled, Why Jon Meacham’s ebook is better because he’s no longer at Newsweek. In it, I observed how Meacham’s obvious gifts for longform traditional book-length non-fiction (he’s won a Pulitzer for it) is a natural fit for the emergence of an entirely new form of publishing that, despite being described by Mikael Blomkvist, hasn’t quite sunk in. Meacham’s intellect and editoria skills, timed with his landing at Random House after leaving Newsweek, along with the emergence of the Kindle Single format and store, is, in my opinion, a near-perfect alignment of timing, technology (specially, the iPad and Kindle) and talent.
Today, NYTimes.com’s Media Decoder blog reports that Meacham and Random House have signed a deal with Politico to “publish four e-books about the 2012 presidential campaign, the first of which is scheduled to go on sale sometime before Christmas. Each will be in the 20,000- to 30,000-word range and written by Mike Allen, Politico’s chief White House correspondent.”
Those who, like me, have come to the conclusion that the 10-30K non-fiction “book” (the novella of non-fiction) is a length that heretofore did not exist (for economic reasons, primarily), but is the Goldilocks of non-fiction, are going to devour these books (if priced in the $2 range like Meacham & Random House’s first book published in this manner, Beyond Bin Laden).
Whether through major publishers (like Random House or major magazine publishers) or direct from writer to reader, this is a natural formula for break-out success.
[Disclosure: I do not know Meacham, but as I always say when writing about him, his Tennessee and Sewanee (where my son is a student) connections earn him bonus points on this blog.]