How This Woman Spearheaded Amazon’s Kindle Vella Platform Providing Indie Authors New Opportunities

From Forbes:

Virginia Milner, principal product manager for Kindle Direct Publishing and head of Kindle Vella, changed the creative landscape for writers. In a technological world that is ever-changing, many platforms assist artists in generating income. But what about the quality of the content for the users? When designing Amazon’s latest creator’s platform, Milner kept the reader’s perspective at the forefront to provide a more engaging experience. As a result, Kindle Vella launched as a new reading format for serialized stories.

“We were hearing from customers that they were interested in shorter reading experiences, content that they could read quickly, and more in-between moments during their day,” Milner explains. “They really enjoyed having a connection with a longer story or feeling a connection with an author that you get from reading a series. So the idea for Kindle Vella was basically to combine those two things and create a product where authors could tell stories one short snippet at a time, but the reader could follow the story as it was told for weeks, months, or even years. As a result, catching up with their favorite characters becomes almost part of their daily routine.”

. . . .

“I was looking at the opportunity cost of going back to school versus what options would be available to me if I didn’t. I could see a career path very clearly in PR or making a pivot into a broader marketing role. But I knew that my passion was really being able to create something and build something. … There were a lot of things that I needed to learn to make that first step and also tools I was going to need to grow in an alternate career as a product manager, ultimately leading a technology team or leading a technology company.”

. . . .

After graduation, she joined Amazon as a product manager, helping independent brands build their businesses selling merchandise on the platform. Then, four years ago, she transitioned over to the Kindle Direct Publishing team.

“Both my parents are authors,” she smiles. “I’ve watched them spend many hours trying to get their works published. Just the idea that an author can just spend their time writing and then publish and immediately make their book or their work available to all of Amazon’s customers is so powerful and very inspiring to me.”

As Milner witnessed how customers consumed content and began to understand their needs, the idea for Kindle Vella flourished. She envisioned how a new platform could change the landscape for indie authors. Kindle Vella allows authors to continue their content but not necessarily in the long format required on other platforms. For example, authors could produce a prologue in Kindle Vella for books that they’ve already published or write a story based on one of their secondary characters.

Milner and her team also found ways for the author to engage directly with the reader. At the end of every episode, authors can leave an author’s note explaining the process or excitement for the chapter. It allows the reader to go behind the scenes with their favorite writers. Since the launch, thousands of authors have published thousands of stories, totaling tens of thousands of episodes.

“It was a product manager’s dream,” Milner states. “At Amazon, we have this culture where we write a press release at the beginning of a project for what our vision is for the product when we finish it, and we’re ready to release it to customers. So I’ve worked on Kindle Vella from the beginning, wrote that original press release, and then took it through launch a couple of months ago. So it was the full end-to-end experience of creating the vision, building a team, working with the team to build the original vision, and then taking it through launch.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG hasn’t taken the time to explore Kindle Vella yet, but would appreciate hearing the experience of visitors to TPV who have and their thoughts about what sort of writers might benefit from/thrive on the platform.

PG is also interested in how Kindle Vella may be similar to or different from a blog where the blogger writes all her/his own material.

10 thoughts on “How This Woman Spearheaded Amazon’s Kindle Vella Platform Providing Indie Authors New Opportunities”

  1. Wait, PG wants views? Well, let me roll up my sleeves! 🙂

    On my snarky side, I think they’re spinning two completely different desires and trying to make it one…they asked the ecosystem about obstacles to growing the industry, and two of the feedbacks they got was people were busy and didn’t have time to read long pieces like books (ignoring that short story collections are not exactly hard to find) and that some people prefer to read series over trying new authors (ignoring that this is more about discoverability and comfort factors, not a lack of series). Soooo, if I was in the room with the proposal, I’d say the methodology for the rationale research totally sucks canal water, but hey, it must be good for writers, right?

    Right now, if you want to write serialized fiction and make money, you kind of have a limited ecosystem for formats:

    a. Books with traditional, slow timelines;
    b. Ebooks with faster timelines, but still often slower than demand unless you’re Dean Wesley Smith and can burn and churn reliable content to satisfy demand;
    c. Magazine submissions
    d. Web solutions (zines, blogs) supported by subscription
    e. Web solutions (zines, blogs) supported by advertising
    f. Web solutions (zines, blogs) supported by Patreon
    g. Other?

    However, lots of people are trying to play in the Other category…Kindle Shorts is big, of course, although not as serialized. Some of Smashwords. Vella tries to take fiction length materials and turn them into digestible chunks but I’m not sure that does anything “new” that I would count as other. For me it is like getting ebooks by chapter instead of as one file?

    Where I have seen some true attempts to grow the ecosystem are companies like Realm (formerly Serial Box). Their model is to basically take serialized fiction as if it was TV episodes but instead of TV, they’re audio episodes. Now available through podcasts, the “extra” kick is that you can read the text if you prefer. They work off a subscription model which is heavily like some of the above options, but the audio tends to kick it in another direction for serializing. They aren’t taking books and just making audio versions, they have created a whole new viable genre.

    Some examples…there are official Marvel stories on there. Jessica Jones for example. Building off the TV episodes. Equally, there are original Orphan Black stories that take place several years after the show ended. Many are written by the original writers on the show. One story that I’m really enjoying is called CTRL ALT DESTROY, kind of a story about a video game designer who has her story stolen and used for an diplomatic war game simulation. Sounds very indie, very fanfic, right? Except the narrator is Summer Glau, of Firefly / The Sarah Connor Chronicles / Big Bang Theory cameos. Linked to full podcast worlds now. All original fiction, all serialized. I know, I’ve mentioned it before in the comments, and no I’m not shilling for them. It’s just that very rarely do I see something truly DIFFERENT that is a different market than just a different shade of an original. I don’t know if there is enough to generate a living wage over the long run, but I think it’s a fantastic option for the future for diehard fans to still follow shows they love, after TV production costs drive them off the air.

    I have a list of about 50 shows that could probably do something similar, yet likely wouldn’t work as simple books.

    P.

    • For me it is like getting ebooks by chapter instead of as one file?

      Showtime presents one episode per week. Netflix throws all the episodes out at once. Some watch one, and some watch the other. Nobody cares what I prefer.

      • Lots of folks wait until the last episode airs to binge the series.
        That is what killed AMAZON SERIALS.
        Authors serialized their novels but readers waited to buy the full story.

        Vella is just hoping 10 years have changed that.

    • QUIBI tried to grow tbe ecosystem betting on short content for time constrained people.
      Failed miserably.
      As expected:

      https://theblemish.com/2020/10/quibi-just-folded-taking-two-billion-dollars-of-the-worlds-dumbest-peoples-money-with-them/

      I’m not sanguine on either Vella, not after Amazon Serials from 2012 thudded, or audio books growing eternally. On those latter I see a plateau fairly soon. (Inflation isn’t going to help.)

      The market that is growing is long-form video; not just the big Hollywood studios’ streaming services but Amazon’s Prime Video Direct. It has by some report 15,000 movies from Independent producers going to Prime Video on top of AmazonStudios, MGM, and licensed content.
      Just as KDP thrives off indie books, PVD has indie video on its catalog.

      People do like serial content but they like long form, too. And longform serials is what sells best. In video and prose, too.

  2. What struck me about what is on offer is that it matches what I’m currently getting for free from any number of author newsletters, where the content is a reward for having handed over one’s email address: short stories (often series prequels), extra epilogues, whole books delivered chapter by chapter (often as a clean first draft rather than final copy) have all turned up in my inbox recently.

    However, I’m not really the target audience for Vella and can’t imagine paying for it’s content. As someone currently saving up two series of novels to binge read when they are complete I’ve no great desire to consume one chapter a week or whatever.

  3. So the general consensus in my writing circles is that Amazon tried to cash in on the recent surge of serial fiction that’s come out of Asia (and I think Russia?). Tapas, Webtoon, Royal Road, and a host of others. Some are free for readers (with authors frequently putting out advance chapters paid on Patreon), some are subscription based. All have their followings and general audiences (romance, litRPG, etc).

    And for the most part, Vella is a *flop*. I nearly put together a story for it, but didn’t have time. I have no regrets about not jumping on that bandwagon. They required exclusivity of the work, meaning it couldn’t have been published for free anywhere else before that (although paid was ok) and it couldn’t be out anywhere else while it was on Vella. Eggs, basket, as expected for Amazon.
    They also didn’t advertise it, expecting authors to do that work for them. Then they made it difficult for authors to actually get links into the hands of readers and for readers to find it on the website. Most of the people I know who tried Vella as a platform have pulled their work and gone back to old serialization methods that work.

  4. Strictly speaking as a consumer of Kindle Vella stories, there’s significant risk for the reader that they are left hanging forever with no ending. I started a story, got engaged, five “episodes” later and author has quit producing content. I won’t go back for that reason.

    • A common risk with TV series.
      Series that fail to deliver big enough audience get cut with no regard for the audiencd that did show up. Lots fail to last a full season, leaving all sorts of hanging threads.
      FIREFLY at least got a movie to provide some closure.
      Most STAR TREK series don’t.
      Even movie series get cut short (AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 devoted a good amount of effort setting up sequels that never came).

  5. BTW, the OP neglects to mention tbat Vella is iOS and web only.
    It is starting to be added to the Kindle app on android and Fire:

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/amazon-brings-vella-to-kindle-for-android-and-fire-tablets-expanding-episodic-reading-platform/ar-AASIkx7

    No mention on when or if it’ll head to Kindle ereaders.

    “Vella isn’t yet available on Kindle e-readers. Amazon hasn’t said when that might happen.

    Users can find Vella titles in the Kindle app on Android or Fire tablets by tapping on the Kindle Vella link in the top menu in the Store tab, or by searching for the author or story name.

    Vella is an extension of the Kindle Direct Publishing platform for independent authors. It’s designed for mobile reading, with episodes ranging from 600 to 5,000 words each. Readers get the first three episodes for free, and purchase tokens to unlock further episodes as they go. ”

    A very different release schedule from KDP itself but very similar to QUIBI: phone first, everything else an afterthought.

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