Friday 17 February 2012

What do you expect, for 99 cents?

Remember those days, not too long ago when you used to pick up a book in a bookstore? You would admire the front cover, read the back cover and possibly the forward? Then, if you were unfamiliar with the author’s work, perhaps have a quick glance at a few pages of writing inside, check out the font size (if you are over 50, this is highly important!) and decide whether to buy it or not.
Is it me, or, in those heady old days, were all books roughly the same size? Yes, there were some that were really fat, the sort of thing you would take on holiday. And the odd one, that was quite specialised, was a bit thinner than the rest. If someone had padded a book out by using large font and pictures, you could get an idea of it pretty much straight away.
    But now times are changed. To start with, things changed when we all started buying books on Amazon because they were cheaper. But still we might drop into a store, and give a solid copy the once over. At the very least, Amazon told us what size it was and, even if they didn’t, we trusted them.
Then along came ebooks. At first this wasn’t an issue because most, if not all, ebooks were just electronic copies of a paper book.
    Then, as we know, things changed. Along came the indie writer - self publishing, self editing and self marketing their own work. Amazon embraced them; why wouldn’t they? As the readership changed, the need for hard-copies in order to sell large volumes disappeared overnight and with it went our rights as a reader.
    Realistically, Amazon’s product reviews should continue to maintain the quality of the work on sale but – unless the book has sold thousands and thousands – that doesn’t really work. A book, with 4 good reviews could be great or rubbish, depending on who wrote the reviews - which could be, heaven forbid, the author themselves. All this we know, now.
     What they didn’t for-see was that by offering books at only 99 cents, readers would –and perhaps should - be prepared to accept less. Not just less in quality, but less in volume. As far as I can establish, that has to be the only reason that they have now removed the WORD-COUNT from the product description.

So my question to you is: How long should an ebook novel be

   Traditional publishers will advise that a novel is 80-100,000 words long. That is what it always used to be. But is an ebook that long? For 99 cents?
    I recently studied the case of John Locke, the first self-published author to sell 1 million books on kindle. Out of curiosity, I checked out a couple of his books, but they weren’t for me. As an exercise, I checked to see how many words they were – he now has a dozen or so on sale a claims to publish a new one every 8 weeks – but I couldn’t find the answer anywhere. Amazon weren’t going to tell me, were they? Eventually, I did find out, that they are 35-50,000 words only. And every one, sold at 99 cents, has made it into the Amazon top 10 sellers list.
    So we now establish that an ebook is acceptable at 40,000 words, half that of a paper novel. Next, I checked out a few other titles in the top 100, to find some are even less. Wool by Hugh Howley is only 12,000. He tells us it is a novelette: ‘Science fiction has a long history of celebrating the short form’ – his own words. At least he tells us.
    So, are we, the reader, being sold short? Or are out expectations just too high for what value we can expect for the meagre sum of 99 cents?

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