The evolution of e-book singles as a significant content form took a step forward July 25 with Amazon's announcement that it was creating The Kindle Singles Interview, featuring long-form interviews with great artists, thinkers and world leaders. (Thin Reads is a great believer in the Q&A format and that's why we created The Thin Reads interview featuring interviews with great authors writing e-book singles.)
The first Kindle Single released under this series is The Optimist, a 42-page interview with Shimon Peres, the 89-year-old President of Israel. David Samuels conducted the interview in association with Tablet Magazine, a four-year-old daily online magazine of Jewish culture, ideas and news.
So just how important is this move by Amazon and what does it mean for consumers? Hard to tell, but here are eight key points to pay attention to:
What Amazon didn't say: There are several unanswered questions (and Amazon has declined to say anything beyond the content of its press release.). We don't know the frequency for these interviews. We don't know who will be the next interviewee. The answers to those two questions will tell us a lot about Amazon's intentions in this area.
The business model: Here's the big question. Does the interview subject participate in the revenue generated by the Kindle Single Interview? If Amazon follows the book model, the subject is likely to receive a cut of the revenue. After all, readers are much more inclined to buy The Optimist for the answers from President Peres, not the questions from David Samuels. It's also worth noting that if interview subjects get a cut of the revenue, it creates more incentive for them to be provocative and forthcoming.
However, if Amazon sets up The Kindle Single Interview on the traditional magazine model, then there will be no revenue share. Almost every reputable magazine doesn't pay for interviews. Even though certain interviews no doubt help sell magazines, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly how many sales result from a published magazine interview.
It's important to note that Tablet Magazine didn't pay President Peres for the interview. "Tablet is a journalistic enterprise. We never pay for interviews," said editor Alana Newhouse, who pointed out that she's speaking for Tablet not Amazon. She added that he's not sharing in any sales revenue either. "I know," she said. "It's not a guess."
That doesn't close the door to future interviewees getting a cut of the revenue from The Kindle Singles Interview, especially if sales take off. (Four days after The Optimist was on the market, it ranked as the #4 best-selling nonfiction Kindle Single.) Amazon is not discussing at this point.
Is this a magazines-watch-your-back moment? If Amazon comes out with several big news-making interviews a month, it may feel like Amazon is encroaching on a type of journalism usually associated with magazines. The Kindle Single Interview will not put any magazine out of business in the near future. But magazines positioned as thought leaders may have their value proposition diminished.
The fast turnaround: This is another challenging development for magazines (and newspapers). The two-hour interview with Peres was conducted Sunday, July 21, in Jerusalem. Four days later, a 42-page Kindle Single landed in Amazon's bookstore. That's a super-fast turnaround and it means that Amazon has the capability to jump into newsworthy situations, emerge with a big interview and quickly package it for a sale. Traditionally, that's been the province of magazines and newspapers, not book publishers
The length: 42 pages. Do consumers really want to read that many pages of Q&A?
The choice of Peres as the first interview: Curious. He's a first-class newsmaker but he's not exactly appealing to a young, mobile, forward-thinking digital content consumer. The Peres interview says Amazon is serious about this initiative (but maybe a little too serious).
Price: 99 cents. Perfect. If the interviewee or subject interests consumers, Amazon will surely register a sale at that price point. If this effort succeeds, it opens the door to many other types of long-form journalistic efforts in this vein from Amazon.
A television partner: This may be a bit far-fetched, but it's worth considering. The Kindle Single Interview seems like an opportunity for a partnership between a major television news operation and Amazon. Imagine, say, CNN airing a six-minute segment and branding it The CNN/Kindle Single Interview. Then the network would promote the full-length e-book single on their air. Amazon, in turn, could promote the TV interview to its massive audience. Are you listening Jeff Zucker?