Image: Could some of these be shorter?
Why are nonfiction books, business books in particular not shorter? Or available to buy in sections or by the chapter?
In their book Big Data: A Revolution… – my most quoted of the last few months – Cukier and Mayer-Schonberger discuss the huge, unexploited stores of data Amazon has about how we read.
Despite Amazon’s Kindle e-book readers’ being capable of showing whether a certain page has been heavily annotated and underlined by users, the firm does not sell that information to authors and publishers. Marketers would love to learn which passages are most popular and use that knowledge to sell books better. Authors might like to know where in their lofty tomes most readers give up, and could use that information to improve their work. Publishers might spot themes that herald the next big book. But Amazon seems to leave the field of data to lie fallow.
One insight from an Amazon competitor in the US has prompted the firm to start producing shorter nonfiction books:
Barnes & Noble’s analysis of data from its Nook e-book reader revealed that people tended to quit long nonfiction books midway through. That discovery inspired the company to create a series called “Nook Snaps”: short works on topical themes such as health and current affairs.
Amazon Singles is effectively the same proposition – and it appears to be successful – having sold almost five million downloads since it started in early 2011. It’s a money-spinner for some authors apparently, while others see it as a way to break into the literary world.
But will it become the norm? More popular than longer form
The short-form non-fiction book really makes sense. Anecdotally I half-finish, or third-finish a lot of nonfiction books. It’s not that they are bad, just that you feel like you have got everything you need after the first ten or twenty thousand words (a full-length book is typically 60,000 words or more).
When I wrote Me and My Web Shadow, it really felt like three shorter books – a theory of online reputation, a how-to guide and a set of manuals for various online tools and social networks.
Now that I am looking a second edition and a possible new book square in the eyes, I think that a series of shorter
And yet… people still buy the longer books. Unlike music, they don’t yet seem to want the singles. At least not yet.
I think that what it will take for the short-form e-book market to take off is longer books being published with an accompanying series option – either preceding, simulataneously launched or
From an author’s point of view the serial ending in a complete book is the best option. Each section will be more current, more immediately available and can be amended up to the point that the paper or complete ebook is published.