By Howard Polskin
If you want to understand the burgeoning world of e-book singles, it helps to know who the players are. With that in mind, Thin Reads has created the first list of the most influential executives in the e-book single industry (like Matt Cavnar, right). These are people who decide or influence what we read when it comes to this exciting new form of digital content. And more importantly, they are starting to put their stamp on popular culture and mainstream journalism.
David Blum, Editor in Chief, Kindle Singles. Blum is without doubt the most powerful person in e-book single publishing. Blum and his small team decide if a book will become a Kindle Single. So what does that mean? In analog terms, it’s like Barnes & Noble putting an author’s book on the front table of 600 stores instead of on the bottom shelf of the second floor bookcase near the janitor’s closet. It also means that Amazon will actively promote the Kindle Single on its site and within its eco-system. That kind of marketing muscle can translate into hefty sales. Under Blum’s direction, Amazon just launched the Kindle Single Interview initiative. Major accomplishments: Helping to invent the e-book single form. Personally interviewing President Barack Obama over the summer for the second Kindle Single Interview.
Donna Carpenter. Chairman and CEO, New Word City. Former business journalist Donna Carpenter oversees a company that has published nearly 400 nonfiction e-book singles since launching in 2010. New Word City focuses on long-form journalism about business and history, as well as biographies. Some of the more prominent titles include: “Mitt Romney: A Life”; “How Steve Jobs Saved Apple”; and “The 7 Rules of Change Management.” Major accomplishments: Convincing brand-name authors like Tom Peters to write original short-form books. Allowing readers to rediscover great writers like Thomas Fleming and film critic Richard Schickel by publishing some of their forgotten gems.
Matt Cavnar. Vice President, Business Development, Vook. Cavnar is plugged into the nuances of the e-book single industry better than almost anyone. Wanna know about a company, a deal, an author, a digital retailer? Call Cavnar. He seems to be on top of almost everything and it helps that his love of books comes through so loud and clear. As a founding member of Vook four years ago, his stint in this industry just about qualifies him for emeritus status. At the Brooklyn-based Vook, which creates e-books for authors and prominent companies, Cavnar has worked with a blue-chip lineup of clients including The New York Times, the Daily Beast, Fast Company and Thought Catalog Books. Major accomplishment: Overseeing the lightning-fast publication of Publisher Weekly’s very first e-book single “The Battle for $9.99” in June. (It became a best-seller.)
Mink Choi. Book Producer, Thought Catalog Books. Since joining the Williamsburg-based Thought Catalog Books (TCB) in June from the literary management firm Fletcher and Company, Choi has put her stamp on dozens of books her division has published in five short months. That knowing touch of Mink has helped TCB maintain its position as one of the most prolific e-book single publishers operating today. What makes Mink so influential is that she knows her audience: millennials. As such, TCB focuses heavily on sex, dating, and young adult angst. Choi’s formula for TCB seems to rely on clever title (“Love, Sex and Other Things You Might Find at the Airport”) and a sexually provocative book cover (See “Pink Bits” and “Penis”). Choi is the Swiss army knife of TCB. She acquires the original material, she edits and polishes the manuscript and she markets the finished product. With that much workload and so many books to publish, the quality sometimes suffers. Major accomplishment: Publishing 50 books in five months on the job. (Does Choi ever sleep?)
Maris Kreizman. Editorial Director, Digital Content, NOOK Media. Kreizman oversees the original content for Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Snaps. The program launched in June and has produced seven e-book singles over a six-month period. Kreizman’s position is potentially powerful because Barnes & Noble remains a swaggering force in analog book retailing even if the company has been bloodied with its hardware efforts. Kreizman is digging into her deep Rolodex built from her editing duties at Simon & Schuster, Basic Books and eMusic to develop the original short-form books for her company. The next year will be critical for NOOK Snaps – and Kreizman. Major accomplishments: Publishing “High Status Characters,” Brian Raftery’s well-received NOOK Snaps oral history of the The Upright Citizens Brigade. Creating her own cool blog, Slaughterhouse 90210, which is a tasty mash-up of literature and TV, two of her passions.
Laura Owen. Staff Reporter, Gigaom. Some of the most informed stories about the business of e-book singles have been written by Owen. Her Dec. 24, 2012, article about e-book singles stated bluntly that sales of Kindle Singles for Amazon had generated only about seven million dollars so far. “…Amazon only takes 30 percent of it,” she wrote, “making the revenue basically a rounding error.” In the same article, she pronounced that 2012 was the year of the e-book single. That kind of bold and insightful analysis coupled with shoe-leather reporting makes Owen an influential voice in this young industry. Her voice will be muted over the next several months because of her maternity leave. When she returns in February it will be interesting to see whether the e-book single business, which has been taking baby steps over the last three years, is ready to grow up into a more mature industry. If it does, it’s likely Owen will be there to record every major step. Major accomplishment: Her landmark March 12, 2012, story “How Much Do Kindle Single Authors Make?” In it, she revealed that relatively unknown e-book single author Mishka Shubaly made almost $130,000 for his three books. That got the attention of the writing community.
Evan Ratliff. Co-Founder, CEO, Editor, Atavist. If you’re thinking of entering the e-book single business, Ratliff is probably one of the first people to call. He knows how to attract positive attention to his company (see this New York Times article) and money (backers include Barry Diller’s IAC, Google’s Eric Schmidt and film producer Scott Rudin). Since its founding in early 2011, Ratliff and Atavist have received high marks for the quality of the journalism it produces and its business model (it sells not only long-form journalism, but a content management system). In 2014, Atavist will begin publishing novellas. Major accomplishments: Writing the Kindle Single 2013 nonfiction best-seller “The Oilman’s Daughter.” Helping to drive Atavist’s extremely author-friendly strategy of paying writers upfront for their work before they even get royalties.
John Tayman. Founder and CEO, Byliner. Arguably the poster child for e-book singles, Tayman is one of the industry’s most passionate evangelists. His company is known for publishing a steady stream of top-drawer works from major journalists (Jon Krakauer) and novelists (Amy Tan). The San Francisco-based Byliner is also known for pushing a subscription model so readers can access top stories from some of their favorite authors. Major accomplishments: Publishing Jon Krakauer’s best-selling “Three Cups of Deceit” in 2011, which became the first e-book single to hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list. Convinced Stephen King to write a product review of an ice-climbing axe for the now-defunct Rocky Mountain Magazine.
Shannon Berning. Executive Editor, Wharton Digital Books. She’s got her eye on the e-book single category.
Jacob Bronstein. Marketing Manager, Apple’s iBooks. He’s involved with the store’s important Quick Reads section.
Ilan Boock. Co-Founder, Booxilla. Israel’s first digital bookstore and publisher of e-book singles.
Massimo Colasurdo. Founder and Director, Informant. Oversees an influential Italian e-book single publisher
Mark Leon Goldberg and Tom Murphy. Co-Founders, DAWNS Digest. Helping to invent the new form of e-book single content called humanitarian journalism.
Prateek Gupta. Business Development, Flipkart. Helping to create the e-book single industry for the Amazon of India.
Jennifer 8 Lee. Co-Founder and CEO, Plympton. A driving force in the serialized fiction form of content.
Sean McDonald. Publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux Originals. His company has published Robin Sloan’s “Ajax Penumbra 1969” and Warren Ellis’s well-received “Dead Pig Collector.”
Steve George. Editor-in-Chief, Discover Magazine. Tom McGrath. Editor, Philadelphia Magazine. Bob Safian. Editor and Managing Director, Fast Company. Magazine editors who understand the potential of e-book singles.
Jakob Moll. Co-Founder, Zetland. A visionary leader in Denmark’s burgeoning e-book single industry.
Andrew Park. Founder and Editor-in-Chief, The New New South. A pioneer in publishing e-book singles with a distinctly southern flavor.
Maureen Scott. CEO and Co-Founder, Ether Books. UK-based company that publishes made-for-mobile e-book singles straight to smart phones.
Johanna Vehkoo. Editor and Co-Founder, Long Play. Finland’s first e-book single publisher.
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