April 29, 2013

How short is too short for a stand-alone ebook?

by

To be fair, this looks like more than 2500 words.

Jason Boog of Galleycat reported last week that some authors publishing shorter works with the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing program (“I could have released my book with a lot of companies, but I went with Galactus Devourer of Worlds Press. It’s so convenient!”) have been receiving letters from that company, telling them that their work is in fact too short to be sold as an ebook in that marketplace. Users have posted the letter and their ensuing approval and concern on Kboards, a community of authors selling work for the Kindle. The letter is the classic Amazon gobstopper: a cheery professional outside, a puzzling second layer that tastes like pre-chewed customer service jargon, and a delicious bile center.

The letter, as it was posted, reads:

Hello,

During a quality assurance review of your KDP catalog we have found that the following book(s) are extremely short and may create a poor reading experience and do not meet our content quality expectations:

Name of Short

In the best interest of Kindle customers, we remove titles from sale that may create a poor customer experience. Content that is less than 2,500 words is often disappointing to our customers and does not provide an enjoyable reading experience.

We ask that you fix the above book(s), as well as all of your catalog’s affected books, with additional content that is both unique and related to your book. Once you have ensured your book(s) would create a good customer experience, re-submit them for publishing within 5 business days. If your books have not been corrected by that time, they will be removed from sale in the Kindle Store. If the updates require more time, please unpublish your book.

Members of the forum and of the ensuing discussion have come down on both sides of the issue, agreeing that 2,500 words is indeed rather short, but that having a new length requirement is unfortunate for those authors affected.

Personally, I think it sets a strange precedent. It’s easy to understand why Amazon has taken these steps. I’d assume that more than anything the new rule is targeted at the broad taxonomy of ersatz books that populate the Kindle store—Wikipedia cut’n'paste jobs crop up pretty often, and truly do lead to “a poor customer experience.”

But if a very short work—at lengths like these the “book” part of “ebook ” begins to seem facetious—is marked as such, what is the harm in selling them? Take the often-abused analogy to music. Do vendors refuse to sell certain songs if they are too short?

Equating length with value isn’t a new idea—the history of the per-word rate is the history of literature itself—but it remains dangerous, and it would be a shame to see it take hold in this fashion. Or does someone in Kindle content management really dislike haiku?

 

Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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