How Amazon is Changing the Novel Format

In this interesting article ‘Is Amazon Changing the Novel?‘, the author takes a historical tack to explain how publishing media has always influenced the format of novels. And how the new diffusion channels like Amazon are now changing it again.

In the 19th century, novels were often published in episodes in newspapers or, as explained in the article, in several bands that could be borrowed from public libraries one at a time. This definitely had an influence on the way they were written, including the need to maintain attention through suspense at the end of each part.

Now “Amazon […] controlled almost three-quarters of new-adult-book sales online and almost half of all new-book sales in 2019” (in the US one can presume), and in particular through the publishing possibilities of e-books through Kindle publishing, is definitely changing how novels look like. What are the influences at play?

The platform pays the author by the number of pages read, which creates a strong incentive for cliffhangers early on, and for generating as many pages as possible as quickly as possible. The writer is exhorted to produce not just one book or a series but something closer to a feed—what McGurl calls a “series of series.” In order to fully harness K.D.P.’s promotional algorithms, McGurl says, an author must publish a new novel every three months.” I also believe it tends to make novels shorter on average, as well as part of a series. A bit like Netflix promotes series over movies, with the result a much longer total time spent in front on the screen!

The rise of Amazon as a major publisher and a driving force in e-book publishing will shift the novel genre to shorter formats and new ways to consume them. The impact of the publishing media on the novel has always been there and continues.