As readers continue to try to find the balance between their time and money, publishers seem to have created the perfect solution to reverse the dip in readership. E-shorts are the new paradigm – and currently the holy grail of the digital publishing platforms. Priced at a sub-$3 level, and with a 30,000-word maximum limit, the novella format e-books have been gaining increasing popularity from a budget and time sensitive audience.
Pioneered by digital publishing major Amazon as the ‘Kindle Singles,’ E-shorts were termed by the publisher to be ‘Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length.’ In the year and half that has passed since their initial launch, E-shorts seem to have found their niche and place in the market. The shortened e-books have now gained enough traction to consistently challenge the traditional formats of digital publishing whilst opening new avenues for self-publishing. Both the fiction and non-fiction categories of E-shorts have been equally successful.
New York Times literary critic Dwight Garner opined that the new format felt like a new genre of writing in itself – it was long enough for genuine complexity but short enough that it did not need the typical journalistic starches and fillers. And sure enough, there is an increasing number of publishers willing to explore this emerging trend. Major publishing houses such as Random House and Penguin are currently taking steps to develop their own, custom-made, short story digital publishing platforms.
An increasing number of authors of both fictional and non-fictional categories are turning to this digital platform and they are optimistic in their endorsement of E-Shorts. The platform allows both authors and publishers a much quicker publishing route to reach the targeted audience. The shortened timeframe makes reading more relevant and contemporary while the shortened length keeps it crisp and to the point.
Venetia Butterfield from the Viking Press told the Guardian that the publisher had to come up with the E-Short variant as the traditional format took at least a year to reach the readers. "Publishers have long made the mistake of publishing current affairs-y books long after the event. Digital allows us to be much quicker, much more responsive," noted Butterfield.
Penguin is targeting a four-week turnaround, from the time of commissioning to the E-short being made available on a digital reading platform. Rival publishers are expected to match, if not better, this turnaround time as E-Shorts seek to stay current to events happening around the readers.
The E-Short format is also making its mark in the fictional space. Short stories, which thus far were published as collections, are making a renewed comeback as stand-alone pieces. Short stories are published on their own and readers can read and judge them on their own merit. This has turned out to be a win-win for both authors and readers alike.
Another emerging trend in the fictional space is that publishers have begun to employ
E-shorts as a precursor to the unveiling of a piece in the traditional format. An E-short works as a long form narrative trailer of the upcoming book – going further from just being a poster while stopping short of revealing the entire plot. Authors place a perspective, which is besides that of the main character or offer an insight into a sub-plot that leads to the real story.
From an author’s point of view, the E-short format is redrawing the contours of remuneration and risks involved in writing. Amazon, for example, offers no upfront fee but is willing to part with up to 70 percent of the sales receipt. This although little risky offers a higher incentive for a new or upcoming author. David Blum, editor of Amazon Singles, is certain that there is money to be made on this platform for the authors.
For the more enterprising authors, E-shorts is opening a whole new vista of self-publishing. Authors can now self-publish their work online and expect to make money too. Given that the input costs are minimal when compared to traditional forms, self-publishing is now becoming an increasingly possible reality.
By turning in frequent pieces authors can further increase their familiarity with the audience and this lays a path for future success of their full length works, although this trend is yet to be fully ascertained and tested.
Essentially, E-Shorts are looking to occupy that space of the reader’s time that is long enough to be engaging but not enough to savour full length literature. Also with the advent of the new genre of smartphones – ‘phablets’ – there is further reduction in screen space availability. An E-short is perfect for this genre of devices.
E-Shorts have made a sufficient and definite mark for themselves in the digital publishing space for those interested in self-publishing. Authors and publishers can no longer ignore this format while audience can’t seem to have enough of them. There is no doubt that the format is well established but it is yet open for further evolution. How the future evolution pans out could well decide on the future of E-shorts as a format for the long term.