Will essays go the way of the MP3? E-publisher Scribner has announced a plan to publish individual essays by pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman for 99 cents each through Amazon and BN.com. In the era of LPs, cassette tapes, and CDs, the 10-15 song album was the unassailable packaging unit for music, but when downloadable MP3s became widespread (along with concept of shuffle play), consumers now seem to prefer to buy single songs. Will this work?
My guess is no. Although we read single essays online all the time, we get most of them for free. I think readers would be hard pressed to pay 99 cents for a couple thousand words that they're likely to read once. That model works for music because we play songs over and over again. Readers will also pay for collections of essays packaged as physical books, or even e-books, because of the relative value of getting something to keep. But paying for one essay? Nah. Just click to the next free one somewhere else online.