June 11, 2013

Nook Snaps vs. Kindle Singles: what’s the difference?


No matter what you call it, it’s still a tasteless mixture of saturated fat and chatty dating memoirs.

These days, literature’s sounding ever more like cookies: Barnes & Noble announced this week that it will be devoting renewed attention to its Nook Snaps program. Nook Snaps, like Kindle Singles, are short (5,000 words and up) digital-only fiction and narrative nonfiction pieces, sold for low prices, generally around $1.99.

B&N has been selling Snaps for a while, but there are a number of new initiatives underway: Laura Hazard Owen at Paid Content reports that they’ll be commissioning original material, they’ll have a regular publication schedule, releasing 3 to 5 new Snaps every other month, and they’re offering a particularly attractive royalty set-up: authors get 100 percent of the royalties for the first 60 days after publication.

Owen also quotes Theresa Horner, B&N’s VP of digital content, on the differences between Snaps and Singles, for those who may feel that they have just fallen into a Girl Scout cookie spread and need some orientation. Horner said that Nook Snaps is “ ‘not meant to be a program in competition with Amazon Shorts [Kindle Singles]’ because it is more ‘author-centric’ and ties into the Nook Press platform.”

But here’s the strange (or perhaps not so strange thing) about Nook Snaps. They look a lot like Kindle Singles. I mean a lot. For instance, in the New & Notable Snaps section this week, there’s a goofball Chelsea Handler-esque memoir about online dating, Drinking My Way Through 14 Dating Sites by Tiffany Peon. And the featured title in the Humor section on the current Kindle Singles homepage? Drinking My Way Through 14 Dating Sites by Tiffany Peon. The front page Reporting title in the Singles store is A World of Hurt, by award-winning New York Times writer Barry Meier, an exposé about prescription painkillers. So what’s in the New & Notable Snaps carousel but… A World of Hurt, by award-winning New York Times writer Barry Meier, an exposé about prescription painkillers.

And even when the content is not exactly the same, it seems to be intended to ape the Kindle Singles’ offerings. For example, the featured book in the Kindle Singles Profiles section right now is Always Right, an assessment of the life and legacy of Margaret Thatcher by bestselling British historian Niall Ferguson. Not to be outdone, the Nook Snap store has their own Maggie title, Margaret Thatcher: A Life, by the editors of New Word City (itself a curious operation that churns out books for the business market about “what you can learn from the life of Bono,” most of which are similarly attributed in terms of authorship, which makes me think that this is a work-for-hire press where freelance writers are turning over any claim to their work to NWC leadership…which is not, I think, what you’re supposed to learn from Bono).

Of course, the Nook Snap store and the Kindle Single store are both just that: stores. And bookstores sell the same material as other bookstores. The duplication of material also means, for consumers, that your brand of e-reader doesn’t limit your choices from the vast longform bouquet. But, as we’ve pointed out before, that means the illusion of exclusivity that both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have tried to foster in regards to their longform content is, for the most part, just misleading: a blurry little pretense of curatorship quickly drowned in the deluge of Thatcher hagiographies.

It’s true that Snaps that are specifically commissioned under the new efforts will be exclusive to B&N, for 60 days. But 60 days in the life of a digital book is, for most titles, a very limited sales window. And Amazon has had some exclusive content, such as Stephen King’s Guns. However, in the end, these are still two stores very much in competition with each other in a very traditional way, i.e. selling the same shit they think will sell in the hopes they’ll sell to more people than the other store. To make editorial distinctions between them, and to claim that there’s no competition going on, seems highly disingenuous at best.


Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.