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Princeton University Press to try e-book shorts

November 2, 2011 |  3:40 pm


This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Princeton University Press is going to begin publishing e-book shorts on Amazon and other e-book sellers, testing the idea that an academic publisher can succeed where other e-book publishers have gone with Kindle Singles.

Kindle Singles are sold in Amazon's Kindle store. Generally longer than a newspaper article and shorter than a complete book, Kindle singles are sometimes short stories, sometimes long nonfiction pieces. Priced from 99 cents to $2.99, Kindle Singles allow someone to dip into a topic without making a huge financial commitment. Kindle Singles are available on Amazon's Kindle e-reader, of course. They're also available to anyone who has installed the Kindle app on a smartphone, or uses the Kindle cloud reader online.

Princeton University Press' e-book shorts will be like Kindle Singles but will operate outside Amazon's program. The five e-book shorts will launch on Wednesday; they will be available from multiple vendors and are all excerpts of existing books. Singles-buyers can get a piece of "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau, "On War" by Carl von Clausewitz, and "Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage" by Kenneth S. Deffeyes. The short piece "The Second Great Contraction" is an excerpt from "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly" by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, and the charmingly titled "The Five Habits of Highly Effective Honeybees (and What We Can Learn From Them)" is from Thomas D. Seeley's "Honeybee Democracy."

At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jennifer Howard talked to Princeton University Press' Robert Tempio, who oversees the series.

"Our thinking was that with the emergence of the e-book, there might be new and additional opportunities to promote and sell particularly pertinent and/or edifying selections from our books."

I asked him whether he's concerned that readers will skip buying an entire book if they can download a good chunk of it for a few bucks. "There was more sense that this might drive people to the full book," Mr. Tempio said. In any case, the outlay in time and money isn't likely to be burdensome for the press....

The Princeton Shorts experiment won't transform scholarly publishing as we know it. But it looks like a sensible, efficient way to test digital delivery, gauge readers' appetites for short books, and make the most of already published content.

Material from an academic press may find a positive reception from readers who like short e-books; Kindle Singles readers have embraced "The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life" by Ann Patchett as well as stories by Stephen King and Lee Child.

[For the record, 8:15 a.m. Nov. 3: The original version of this post said that Princeton University Press' short e-books would be part of the Kindle Singles program. They are not.]


Literary journalism finds new platforms

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-- Carolyn Kellogg