wants to revive the art of the short story by selling 49-cent digital downloads of new writing from a variety of name-brand authors. The Web retailer last week introduced "Amazon Shorts," (, consisting of 60 brief works of fiction, nonfiction, mini-plays and sample chapters from upcoming books that people can buy and download in a variety of formats -- none of them protected against piracy.

Ann Beattie, Danielle Steel, Robin Cook, Terry Brooks and Stuart Woods are among the dozens of authors offering original writings at lengths ranging from 2,000 to 12,500 words.

The No. 1 seller last week was a 12,500-word essay by Harry S. Dent titled "Bubble After Bubble in the Ongoing Bubble Boom." A stock prognosticator, Denton contends we are in "a continuing bubble boom" that is an extension of the 1990s era and is about to usher in another bull market likely to peak around 2010. Also on the Amazon Short bestseller list was romance writer Steel's "Candy for the Soul," a 3,800-word memoir of her life as a writer of 92 books and mother of nine whose husband walked out just as the children started leaving.

Amazon did not disclose the royalty rate it is paying authors. It decided to sell their stories without requiring any so-called digital-rights management software -- often used to try to stop customers from sharing copyrighted works -- "to preserve a frictionless viewing experience." In other words, Amazon wanted to make them easy to read.

As a result, downloading an Amazon Short could hardly be easier. Amazon provides three format choices and even lets people get all three if they want: It will send the story via a plain-text message to any e-mail address; present it on a Web page that can be printed or stored on a computer; or provide it as a Portable Document Format file that preserves its original formatting and can be read with Adobe Reader and other free programs.

Short-Order Cooking Videos

TV types are falling all over each other trying to create itsy-bitsy snippets of Web video. The Food Network announced last week that it will launch a 13-episode series of original video about food trends to be shot in five cities and offered only on the Internet. The unnamed series hosted by celebrity chef Dave Lieberman will cost as much to produce as a two-hour network TV show, even though each segment will run only some two minutes. The rationale for such abbreviated shows, said the network, is that its research shows "90 seconds is about the maximum time span most consumers have for online video."

So much for the notion that the Web provides greater depth than traditional media, huh?

Digital Playboy

Playboy Enterprises Inc. has decided to digitize its aging magazine. Starting Sept. 13, an electronic replica of Playboy will be sold as a download from the Web with the exact same material and layout -- and price -- as the print magazine. Playboy has partnered with Zinio Systems to convert the magazine into an electronic format that can be read with its free Zinio Reader software on Windows or Mac OS X. The digital issues will be sold as single copies or via subscription.

E-mail Leslie Walker at