The e-book single market inched forward in 2013. More than 400 e-book singles were published according to the Thin Reads database. A few big-name authors offered their work to this fledgling industry. Stephen King wrote a well-received nonfiction e-book single about gun control of all things -- and promptly dominated the best-seller list. Hip eyewear manufacturer Warby Parker sponsored the acclaimed e-book single "Coronado High." Yet, there was no hockey stick moment for e-book single sales that we could determine.
We're not even sure if that moment will occur in 2014. Nonetheless, here are a few suggestions that Thin Reads thinks will help push the industry forward.
More upbeat Kindle Singles from Amazon. Amazon is to be commended for creating the market for e-book singles and publishing an eclectic and interesting slate of Kindle Singles. However, the list of Kindle Singles tilts heavily toward the dark and depressing. At times, it seems the only way to get a memoir published as a Kindle Single is to have some awful affliction. Here are just a few of the bummer titles that we can point to (and apologies to those cited -- there's nothing wrong with any particular title but it's the aggregation of them that bothers us): The Man with the Electrified Brain (mental illness); The Misfit (mental illness); Estranged (family dysfunction); The Silence of Our Friends (crisis in Syria); The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side (sexual predator); Aftermath (fiction, genocide); It's All in Your Head (illness); and Pushover (fiction, the Holocaust). We like a good serious story as much as anyone, but let's hope Amazon lightens it up a bit more in 2014.
Best-seller lists from iBookstore, Barnes & Noble. Right now, there's only one e-book single best-seller list publicly available. And that's the Kindle Single best-seller list from Amazon. But here's the problem. That list only tracks Kindle Single best-sellers. And we estimate that only a third of all e-book singles released in 2013 were Kindle Singles. Therefore, we have no way to know how well some well-written and prominent e-book singles sold during the past year. These books include Tom Ruprecht's This Would Drive Him Crazy: A Phony Oral History of J.D. Salinger (our top fiction e-book single of 2013); Robert Caro's Dallas: November 25, 2013; and the New York Times' Snow Fall, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.
E-book singles sales figures. How many e-book singles were sold in 2013? What were the best-sellers? How much money did they generate? How much money did the entire e-book single industry generate during the past year? There are no publicly available numbers (although Thin Reads estimates that 75 percent to 90 percent of all e-book singles sales take place through Amazon, based on our conversations with publishers. That leads us to believe that Amazon has a very good idea about this market.). But until those numbers are revealed, it's impossible to know the size and scale of the e-book single market and if it's growing. And that lack of information about the industry and where it may be going -- or stagnating -- is probably thwarting growth. Why would major publishers or authors jump into this business if they don't know if it's a thriving industry?
E-book singles from big name authors who have yet to enter this market: Many prominent authors have published e-book singles. Some -- like Stephen King, Lee Child and Nelson DeMille -- have multiple titles on the best-seller list. But there are several best-selling authors who have not yet published an e-book single. These authors include: Bill Bryson, Nora Roberts, Dan Brown and Bob Woodward. An e-book single from any of these authors would be big news and drive more consumer interest.
Increased coverage about the e-book single market from mainstream media. For the most part in 2013, mainstream media virtually ignored the e-book single market (except for a New York Times profile of Kindle Singles editor David Blum). Let's hope that changes in 2014. We'd like to see more reviews and business coverage of the industry.
An e-book single about Edward Snowden. Surely, there's a major newspaper or magazine that can turn out a page-turning narrative about the NSA leaker, who was close to being chosen Time Magazine's man of the year. Seems like something perfectly suited for the likes of the New York Times, the Washington Post, GQ or the Guardian. All four news organizations have produced some quality nonfiction e-book singles.
More original e-book singles from Barnes & Noble. In June, Barnes & Noble launched NOOK Snaps Originals, the company's line of e-book singles that were commissioned for the B&N's digital store. The company published four stories originally and came out with another three in October. That comes to about one e-book single a month. Barnes & Noble is a potential major e-book single tastemaker but one story a month won't move the needle. For the industry to make more major strides in 2014, Barnes & Noble needs to quadruple its output.