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Amazon Cracks Down on Kindle Books Under 2,500 Words

26 April 2013

From Galleycat:

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is reportedly planning to remove Kindle books that have fewer than 2,500 words.

At the KBoards site for Kindle readers and writers, one author shared a letter from Amazon that explained: “Content that is less than 2,500 words is often disappointing to our customers and does not provide an enjoyable reading experience.”

Link to the rest at Galleycat and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Amazon

39 Comments to “Amazon Cracks Down on Kindle Books Under 2,500 Words”

  1. I’m hoping this is just a fluke from one person that got some complaints, but it’s still unfortunate. The better alternative is to help customers to make informed decisions by making word or page count more prominent, and allowing people to search by length.

    Already they have a very generous return policy for anyone who bought a book only to find out that it was too short for their tastes.

    I think informing authors about their ‘return reasons’ would really help improve the quality of books, as well.

    • I will have to disagree with you there. If I were amazon, I would be keeping track of the quality on kindle. Since amazon let anyone publish a book quite easily, it’s very simple for someone to publish a books that completely useless.

      This may be a way to decrease amazon’s server cost also – these books they are deleting may be costing them more than they are making. And if the books aren’t selling anyway, it’s better to just throw em out.

      • There is no way on God’s green earth that an individual book will use, for the rest of eternity, enough resources to keep on a server to justify the attention of a human being who must look at it, consider it, and make a decision about whether or not to delete it. (Note, this is not *presently* true about books which contain a lot of images or otherwise far exceed the typical size of a book of text. It will be soon.) However, given the vast *number* of them, some fairly ruthless heuristics may eventually become necessary. We will see.

  2. I’m also told that the erotica authors are being sequestered — a potential customer has to know the book is erotica and hunt for it by title or author, rather than having it come up in a generic search by author name. I have no skin in that game, but they can refine this till the cows come home and there’s nobody who can ask them not to. It’s their site, their algorithm, and they’ll restrict it in any way that makes sense to them.

  3. I saw this yesterday. Reading through the kindle boards and the letter posted there, it didn’t look like a one-off. I am dismayed. Not for myself. My shortest story is 4,000 words and I tend to write long. (Plus I bundle 2 stories together whenever the word count is below 6,000 – like that 4,000 worder.) But for readers. It is entirely possible to write a story very much worth reading that provides enjoyment, even thugh it is under 2,500 words. I hope Amazon changes this new policy. I understand that they want to provide good experiences for their customers. Of course, and I’m all for it. But I don’t think this is the way to go about it.

  4. Maybe Amazon doesn’t like competing with itself. Kindle singles fights back against Kindle Direct Publishing: “Hey, get off my lawn! (Cough)” I’m trying to work this through. Would not a short Kindle book be a back-door cousin to a Kindle Single? It’s like boxing: In this corner we have the free-fist of Indie publishing through Amazon; and in the opposite corner we have the gate-keeping light-weight Amazon Singles. Okay, a “Single” is 5,000 words, but “just sayin’.”

  5. Maybe I am nuts but since when is 2500 words a book except in picture books? There is nothing wrong with the length but it should be clearly labeled Short Story or Chapter #***. I was told that when the length exceeds 15000 a story becomes a novella and after 30000 is a book. Is that information wrong?

  6. I have some super shorts on sale and they’re labelled short story. Surely, the page number gives it away, right? I’d sell it for free but Amazon doesn’t allow that. Seems rather drastic to cut them all. But, if the customers are all complaining… Are they mislabeled? Why not just return them…
    Also it’s too short for kindle singles…

  7. There is value in short short fiction. Self-publishing, IMO, has been instrumental in revising the short story. Big publishing has little to no interest in short stories, either singles or a collection, but the ability to upload a short story – a very short work of fiction to Kindle Direct not only helps an author provide a taste, it helps a reader to find a new author. A short work is like an amuse buche, nothing more. It’s a taste, a teaser.
    If a reader enjoys the taste he or she will search for longer works by the same author. If the short is not to his or her liking, well, I suspect the reader is out nothing more than $.99 AND the reader can return the ebook for a refund. (If an author is charging more than $.99 for a shortie, well, that’s a big mistake.)
    I have a feeling this has more to do with Amazon Singles.
    Look at it this way – a reader knows what he or she is getting into– by price and by stated length. What’s to complain about? You don’t want to read a super short story? Don’t buy one.

    • Yep. I’m in your corner. You wrote, “I have a feeling this has more to do with Amazon Singles.” Please see my comment above.

      • Jeff, your comment is spot on. I honestly think this has nothing to do with complaints or returns. I find I have far more returns on my full-length works, very few on my $.99 short stories – by the way I’d like to complain about readers who purchase an ebook, read it, then return it and get their money refunded which is gaming the system par excellence. They get a free book. And I don’t think it’s due to bad writing on my part. I have some pretty dang good reviews. I have yet to return an ebook, even if it’s a sucky ebook. I bought it, I eat it– in the same way I can’t return a print book to our local indie bookstore just because I didn’t enjoy the story.
        My shortest work on Amazon says eight pages. Eight pages is eight pages. Readers aren’t stupid. I think ebook readers are very savvy. If they see eight pages and they don’t want to spend $.99 for eight pages, that’s fine with me.

  8. I myself don’t like to sell anything less than a novelette or a collection of five flash stories for 99 cents.

    I think it’s good of Amazon to start establishing some expectations — especially based on word count.

  9. If Amazon is about customers’ satisfaction and shorties are the majority of the returned books with the common complaint that books are too short, raising the minimum word limit solves the problem.

    Writers of short stories can bundle and get satisfied readers instead of bad reviews and returns. Don’t really see a problem here.

    Often book length is stated in # words, but personally I judge length by *pages*. I have no clue how long 8 000 words is. (I get that *pages* are relative with ebooks but use the number with the default font size then)

    I think it’s a bit presumptuous of the pro writer to assume that readers are as comfy with word count as they. By all means, state the length of the short story in the description, but please do it in a way most readers understand.

    • I agree, Tina. I’ve seen some digital works on Amazon marked as “X printed pages”, which is SO much more helpful to folks. I mean, why not help the reader make the choice to buy your book in every way possible rather than throwing up obstacles that will simply drive them to choose something less complicated?

    • The problem is that words on a printed page vary from about 200 to 800. That’s a factor of four. The same page count on one book can be four times as long as with another.

      There is no “standard” font or word/page count in a printed book. There are standards for manuscripts but they are misleading because they tend toward the low end of the spectrum. (250 words a page for fiction.)

      The size of the file or the number of locations doesn’t help either — because those vary even more widely.

      The best thing for writers (and especially retailers) to do is include both: pick a standard and do the math, and say “8000 words or about 25 pages.”

      This is a part of the transition to ebooks: the ONLY accurate measure is words so if readers get that information consistently, they will come to know what that means to them. (I.e. how long it takes to read.) That will only happen if writers and retailers make a point of including it.

      • When people ask me how long my books are, I often respond in words, because that’s how I measure it. They always want it in pages, so I make something up. Telling them 100k words doesn’t mean anything to them. If I say 300 words per page, then they feel like they need to do math, which they hate. So over the last three years I’ve been drilling into people that a typical short novel will have 60-80k words, longer novels 100-120k, and fantasy novels usually more than that. But since Amazon doesn’t report word counts, they forget. It would go a long way in making things more transparent if Amazon would include both counts.

      • Amazon currently calculates page count as 330 words per page. I use that as the “standard” now. What Zon wants, Zon gets:)

        • Yeah, 330 (to maybe 350) words is about average for a printed page of fiction. I’ve seen it higher in a thick book with smaller font because the publisher was going for cheaper printing cost, and lower when the publisher wanted to bulk up a shorter novel to make it look like more for the reader’s money.

          I’ve never seen the 800 words to a page that someone above alluded to. (Well, maybe in my old Encyclopedia Britannica.)

    • Tina, it doesn’t matter what the default size is with the pages in ereaders. They don’t renumber pages when you change text size. That’s the problem. And with different sized devices, different default sizes for text, etc. it all quickly becomes meaningless. It would be easier to define a standard page size (say, 300 words) and divide the body text count by that. At least it would be a standard. The problem with that is that if Amazon listed that as the page count, the files would say something different when opened on their ereader devices. Queue long lines of consumer complaints.

      It’s more a problem with current standards than anything else. Amazon would probably like a solid, predictable standard, and I think authors would as well. But epub doesn’t give it to us, and that’s basically what we’re working with at this point. There’s no solution right now that’s going to work with the current standard and make anyone happy. Which is why we need either a new or modified standard.

      • But Amazon does have a standard page size. I’m looking at one of my books, and it says, “Length: 391 pages (estimated).” If you click the down-arrow next to that value, it says, “The estimated length is calculated using the number of page turns on a Kindle, using settings to closely represent a physical book.”

        Even my shortest story, at approximately 2000 words (I count story alone; about-the-author and a wee bit of front-matter may bring this to 2,200), has an estimated length: 10 pages.

  10. An automatic add on to the name of anything under 5k or similar number would be nice instead. Like [Short] so if I wrote something called Treasures it would be listed as Treasures [Short].

    • The problem is that:

      1) Readers think of “short” as longer than 5k words — which is why they are complaining.

      and

      2) Lots of books include front matter or end matter which will throw off the count. Automated doesn’t work — the writer/publisher has to step up and be honest.

      • A different choice was to put a word count or number of kindle pages on default settings. Personally I find the current way of showing how big novels are kind of inconveniently tucked away, but its still easy enough to find. But companies market to the widest audience and apparently a lot of them can’t see it. Just like people at my gym can’t see the dry sauna sign.

        Amazon likes automated methods. That’s what they are offering here, to automatically toss all 2500 word stories under the bus. Similar to how their automated review checker destroyed a lot of unbiased reviews to solve that ‘problem’. I’m just throwing out ideas of the type they seem to prefer.

        It would be nice if authors stepped up before Amazon did something but I’m guessing that hasn’t happened.

        On my cell so please forgive my bad grammar being mangled more than usual.

  11. On my book descriptions, I put something like this:

    “Novella, 24,000 words or approx. 80 printed pages.”

    The only folks that have a problem with this is Smashwords. But not everyone is tech savvy enough to translate word-count.

  12. For my two novellas, I call them that and give the word count: 17,000 and 15,000 words. That’s only fair, I think.

  13. I can honestly say I never considered selling anything shorter than about 15,000 words. I was going to wait until my flash fiction collection was much bigger but now… hmm…

    Thanks for the idea, PG!

  14. I’d like to get confirmation from amazon that this is a global stop. That customers are ‘disappointed’ when KNOWING they are buying a short-short, seems not to ring true. Even the word ‘disappointed’ doesnt sound quite like corporate-talk. Id be more inclined to believe words, like, too many returns of ebooks under x # of words, or we dont want to use the band width, or we find that books of kazillion words is the sweet spot we want to hit… but… I’ve seldeom seen amazon explain themselves. They just suck the book out of people’s kindles, remove buy buttons, drop certain genres without notice and without fanfare.

    also this line “ensured your book(s) would create a good customer experience,” how the he– can an author ‘ensure’ that their work is going to create a ‘good customer experience??’ If authors knew that there would be a no-seller list at the NYT because most ALL books would be bestsellers.

    The letter could be true, as many big companies are capricious. And maybe it is real, or maybe Marla B, the putative recipient of the letter is being pranked by a friend.

    But, I’d like to hear direct verification from Amazon officially. Many tricksters pen their own conceits just to see others set afire.

    I’d like to wait and see.
    just my .02

    • Oh, wow! Good points all. Never occurred to me that the individual could have written this supposed letter from Amazon and be lying through his/her teeth! But…it is a possibility.

      Also, every ebook I’ve seen on Amazon has an estimated page count listed in with the ISBN and other info. Even when there is no print edition, just an ebook edition. So readers to whom word count means nothing have a page count right there.

  15. An additional problem with page numbers is that epub files in general don’t give you control over the number of pages. It’s based on some arcane algorithm that changes the number of pages based on the size and/or structure of the epub, not the length of the actual text. Which makes page numbers next to useless for figuring out actual length.

    The best solution would be for readers to acclimate to word count over page count. Amazon could offer both counts, and make both page and word count more prominent on the pages for individual works. What it shouldn’t do is remove shorter works. I typically don’t read anything that short, but clearly some people do. It would be unfortunate to lose the ability to publish that sort of thing.

    The sequestering of erotica struck me as an ill-advised move, and now this removal of shorter works would be even worse.

  16. This is just Amazon having gotten multiple complaints on a single story and sending out a boilerplate letter claiming that “their QA team caught it.” They’re not going to chop all shorts; this is just them establishing precedence when they need to use it.

    The sky is still not falling. Sorry.

  17. I think a better direction for Amazon to take would be to find a way to clearly distinguish short stories from novels. Right now authors are doing it themselves by putting “novella” or “short story” in the title. But why shouldn’t Amazon display them differently so that customers don’t get confused? They could have separate stores/categories for readers who are interested only in short stories, or novellas, or novels. They could color-code them, or display the page count more prominently. There are so many creative ways that Amazon could solve this problem.

  18. I wrote to Amazon KDP to ask about this rumor and got the following response:

    Hello,

    I can confirm that that information is not from Kindle Direct Publishing, therefore it is not true.

    I hope this helps.

    Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

  19. Well done, Angelia.

  20. Can they not just put the dang word count in the description. Some authors do it, and is it Smashwords? or another retailer that does it.

    Honestly, I only want to read long, say 60K for romance, 80K+ for everything else. But I can read, so just tell me how long it is, and I’ll make my decision. I too have been burned with the ‘book’ where I swear the blurb is longer than the story, but I don’t return – who has the time?

    Or Amazon could catalog better, or something (but we know they’re not great at that). But deletion is silly unless there’s another reason.

    @Angelina, I’d assumed it was true because someone I know got an e-mail and shared it. Hmmm. The plot thickens.

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