Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Latest Publishing Rumor

It may have come from a single blogger. Perhaps he or she was quoted in the New York Times. Soon it may be gospel:

People using e-readers prefer shorter books.


I tested the waters by asking around. Most of my totally unscientific research sample on the subject laughed out loud at this notion. “The first eBook I ever read was War and Peace,” one respondent declared. “What possible difference could the length of the book make?” said another. “You can’t see how long it is when you download it.”

For myself, I thought perhaps the e-version of a long book may be more attractive than its printed counterpart. For instance, I would not want to lug Kristin Lavransdatter or The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe onto the subway each day or to pack one of them or any other two-and-a-half pound book for a tour of the Greek Islands. But I could have both of those massive works AND forty other tomes on my iPad and it would be just as easy to carry.

In addition to the “shorter sells better on Kindle” rumor, I have heard talk that e-readers may bring back the novella as a popular form, not because it is shorter, but because publishing novellas has been tricky in terms of how much people are willing to pay for this form and how much it costs to print, store, and distribute a single novella in hard or soft cover. Setting a reasonable price for a novella and distributing it only in e-format could easily be profitable. But it does not then follow that shorter is better for all readers of eBooks.

So what do you think, e-readers out there? Is length a factor in what books will succeed in e-format?

Annamaria Alfieri

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