Fish Lake, Long Form Journalism and the Amazon Kindle Singles Experiment

The first review of our first Amazon Kindle Single, “Last Chance to Ride: Fish Lake”, is in, and if the printer were working I’d frame it – thanks Jeff! An Amazon’s Kindle Single is a short eBook, and potentially the salvation of long-form journalism as magazine’s continue to slide into decline. How they work and the opportunities they offer both writers and readers are quite brilliant, and point to the future of independent journalism.

Have you noticed printed long form journalism is in a bind? As readers increasingly turn to the web, the reduction in readership has lead to a reduction in advertisers, which has lead to a reduction in page counts. That means shorter word counts and thinner articles. So, turn to the Internet you say? The problem is the internet isn’t a great platform for reading long articles… Oh, wait I got distracted, by an e-mail. Oh, look, my twitter feed…

Until the recent rise of tablets like Apple’s iPad it was hard to take an article with you. The Internet also fails authors on the all important “getting paid” part of the equation. Enter, what may be long form journalism’s salvation, the Kindle Single, which we’re giving a whirl with Last Chance to Ride: Fish Lake.

What Amazon has done with Kindle Singles is quite clever. First off the platform is available across a variety of portable reading devices, and that doesn’t just mean the Amazon Kindle eReader. The Kindle App is available for iOS devices, so iPhone, iPad, iPodTouch, as well as Google Android devices – from phones to tablets. For those who don’t have such “there’s a story in your pocket, read it when you want” devices, there are also Apple and Windows version of the reader for your laptop or desktop machine.

So, a wide variety of platforms from the portable to stationary available? Check!

That ubiquity is a clever hardware and software initiative on Amazon’s part. It also should speak to motorcyclists, in that many of us are traveling with these devices anyway. Dedicated e-readers are small and light, and most of us already carry smart-phones on the road, letting us load them with a slew of books and not worry about the weight factor.

Second part is the micro-payment element, which loosely translates to how long form journalists can afford to write articles that involve traveling, eating and fuel bills. Amazon’s biggest innovation in this piece of the puzzle came years earlier in the form of their OneClick payments. You register, you leave your information on file with Amazon, and next time you purchase a book, eBook, Kindle Single or any of the billion other things Amazon now sells, it’s a one click transaction streamlining the user experience. It’s also secure, and removes the onus from us to develop a sales architecture.

Then there is the Kindle Single’s format itself, which allows authors to sell their works for a few dollars a piece on the Amazon e-book platform. For “singles” that are priced $2.99 or above, 70% of the royalties go to the author, below that price point 30% gets kicked back to the wordsmith.

If $2.99 seems like a lot of money for a “single” long form feature, then consider a couple points. You’re getting an article between 4,000-10,000 words without the clutter of advertising that would be surrounding it in a magazine or on a web site. Also, you’re specifying your purchase, you may not be interested in 50% of the articles in any given magazine, but as a subscriber or over the counter buyer, you’re paying for them (along with the privilege of being bombarded with advertising).

Editorially, you’re also cutting out the middle man. I’m not saying Kindle Singles shouldn’t have an editor, they most definitely should, but you are getting the story the way the author intended it. Most editors will hit a writer with a number of requests to ensure an article’s tone matches that of the magazine along with the removal of elements for the sake of word count.

Over its lifetime OneWheelDrive.Net has struggled with the issue of financial sustainability, because I suck at ad sales as I don’t like ads. In the past few months I’ve experimented with a variety of advertising formats for video and written web based media, and they are all intrusive. Beyond that I also realized that ad sales are time intensive; there are phone calls to make, e-mails to send, media kits to prepare, packages to customize and statistics to format. As a writer, to build an ad based site you are pouring nearly all your time into advertising sales, rather than creating the content that drew readers to us initially.

There’s also the onus of not upsetting off your advertisers too much, which can sap journalistic integrity. For a site that has until recently primarily focused on reviews, this is an important consideration and some manufacturers have thicker skin than others. Also, the motorcycle industry isn’t particularly good reciprocal support.

There are of course other solutions to these dilemmas, foremost becoming a pay site. With a model similar to Hell for Leather or the various metered usage pay-walls which are appearing across a variety of online newspapers, we may stand a chance at making ends meet. Erecting such a barrier though, would lead us into the “magazine trap”, where all readers end up paying for all the content regardless of the value to them. For that reason alone we’d prefer not to become a pay site.

So, the Kindle Single becomes our current media experiment, and as such it’s an innovative gamble. There’s a lot that could go wrong as publish new features, and move some of our most beloved old ones, into the Kindle format to see what sort of Singles are best responded to. The worst outcome is that we loose you, our readers. We know though from meeting you on the road, at events and randomly at local coffee shops that OneWheelDrive.Net readers are technologically brave, and we hope that you’ll join us on this new publishing adventure.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. paringa says:

    I’m in Neil. has been the premier source for non biased motorcycle related information on the web in my opinion. The honesty and integrity of the writing is more than apparent. I always found this to be admirable considering there were/are always sponsors involved to some degree and always this must mean walking a fine line between journalistic integrity and not biting the hand that feeds youto some degree.
    You adventures are real adventures which push the envelope for motorcycle riding by real, down to earth motorcycle explorers. No big sponsers, and no chase vehichles. Thats the way we average folk have to do them. They inspire many of us to go further with our riding as we watch you and your team complete these adventures with the same resources that most of us have available to us.
    Bravo for striking out in another form of uncharted territory which helps alleviate and stike a balance many of the issues you lay out in the above article.


  2. Jeff Katzer says:

    Sorry can’t talk now, I gotta grab my iPad and order the newest article “Arctic Challenge”. Latter Dude!


    1. You crack me up! Again, thanks for the support.


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