Amazon’s Longform Game

Last week the company launched Day One, a weekly literary journal “dedicated to short fiction from debut writers, English translations of stories from around the world, and poetry.” Todd Wasserman highlights the first issue:

51UrVWx0E3L[It] appeared Wednesday with the short story “Sheila” by Rebecca Adams Wring and “Wrought,” a poem by Zach Strait. Each issue will also include a note from the editor introducing the writer and poet, along with bonus content like playlists, interviews with the authors and illustrations.

Day One is Amazon’s latest attempt to become a content creator rather than merely a distributor. The company has also recently launched its own TV programming through Amazon Prime. Over the summer, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos independently purchased The Washington Post for $250 million.

Liz Bury gauges the reaction of the publishing community:

[Literary fiction publisher Simon Prosser] welcomed Amazon’s initiative saying “the more ventures trying to get good writing out there, the better”. … “They seem to have chosen young, hip-looking people for the first edition,” said Neill Denny, who is chief operating officer of Read Petite, an online short fiction and non-fiction subscription service…. “For the young end of the literary market — the smartphone generation — it could work. It would be churlish not to welcome an attempt to build an audience for short literary fiction. It’s a noble aspiration.”

Jacob Kastrenakes notes the peculiarity of the new project, as literary journals “aren’t usually seen as being among the more profitable ventures out there”:

Amazon is initially offering a yearly subscription for $9.99, and though it’ll later be raised up to $19.99, at either price Amazon will be significantly undercutting the cost of most highly regarded literary journals, which largely don’t have the resources Amazon does to allow them to operate at such a low cost.

But while price is a war that Amazon can easily fight and win, quality will be its biggest battle. Because literary journals are publishing different authors every issue, they’re generally regarded by the quality of work that they’re able to bring in — with quality work bringing about further quality work down the road. If Amazon can begin to curate and publish quality content in its journal, it could also help to bolster the company’s own literary publishing imprint, Little A, which so far has just over a dozen novels to its name.

“As if they weren’t already making enough money,” snaps the anti-Amazon Dustin Kurtz:

As to why the company might have decided to start a literary journal, the only thought that comes to me is that it’s either a vanity project for someone, a charm offensive (emphasis on offensive) akin to the company’s grants to various magazines and literary organizations, or, again, they may have been motivated by the towering cliffs of cash this thing will bring them. Really. So much money.

A baffled Tom Cheredar suspects that “for now, all we can really say is that the company is definitely playing a long game.”