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Amazon Shorts offers quick reads at 49 cents

Wall Street Journal Inc. has a novel plan to sell literature that is shorter than novels.

The Internet retailer has begun selling short stories from popular authors, in digital form, that will be available exclusively on its Web site. Each story costs 49 cents.

Amazon’s new program is another step in its fledgling digital-content strategy, based on the premise that original material can bring new customers to the company’s site. Though not the first experiment with short-form writing on the Web, few companies with such broad influence in book retailing have become short-form publishers.

The new program, called Amazon Shorts, is starting with 59 authors, which include well-known names such as Danielle Steel and Terry Brooks. Their submissions range in length from about 2,000 to 10,000 words, which the company expects to translate into an average about seven pages each. Customers who purchase a piece can read it on the Web, download and print a copy, save it in a digital locker, or send the story to an e-mail address.

Steve Kessel, Amazon’s vice president of digital media, said short-form literature appeals to many readers but can’t be efficiently distributed in paper form. “The economics didn’t make sense,” he said.

Digital distribution is less expensive and makes short-form literature easier to find for consumers, Kessel said. For authors, it can serve as a marketing tool, letting customers sample their work and maintain a presence in fans’ minds until their next book is released, he said.

Daniel Wallace, author of the fictional novel “Big Fish,” which was made into a movie with the same name, said the Amazon program is “a way to get into people’s homes” and get his writing “to a lot of people who under normal circumstances wouldn’t have the opportunity to see it.”

The Seattle company has been adding forms of digital content – books, music and movies – to its Web site over the past year, with particular emphasis on original material. Last December, it offered short films that promoted products sold on the Amazon site. It later presented short films from amateur filmmakers’ submissions to New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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