Why Do Short Ebooks Seem To Sell So Well?

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Why Do Short Ebooks Sell So Well

Do readers prefer short ebooks to read?

By chance, I was looking at the Amazon Kindle Store and clicked on an ebook listed in the top twenty bestsellers.

I scanned down the book’s details and was surprised to note that the ebook was listed as being only 105 pages in length.

Now, by this measure, it is not easy to calculate the number of words, because what defines a page on Kindle?

Perhaps a rough equivalent to a page in a trade paperback.

I did a quick check of one of my own ebooks, which is a short novella, and saw that Kindle calculated it to be 110 pages long.

I know this book is a shade under 20,000 words, so now I can say with certainty that any ebook listed on Kindle with around 100 pages, is less than 20,000 words.

To put this in perspective, a paperback of 100 pages would hardly be as thin as your little finger.

So we are talking about very short ebook reads here.

Of course, I got curious and looked at a few more bestselling Kindle ebook titles.

In the top 20 ebooks on Amazon Kindle, I found 4 short ebooks at around 100 pages, and they were priced between $1.99 and $3.99.

I could have dug deeper and found more quite easily I suppose, however, I was not interested in how many there were, but why these short ebooks were selling so well.

There has been a lot written about how reading an ebook is different from reading a book, and this article from the Guardian takes the view that readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper.

While I am sure this topic is open to debate, perhaps it is not in the psychology or physiology, as much as in where, when and how an ebook is read.

If one considers the situations when an ebook reader is useful, perhaps a different logic is possible.

Ebook reading is very convenient when travelling on a train, bus or plane, or when relaxing on a beach on vacation.

Perhaps also, during a coffee break at work, or while passing time in a doctor’s waiting room.

All of these situations though are prone to interruption, unlike reading a book while in bed or lazing on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.

In these situations, light, short reads would make sense and would give a good reason as to why short ebooks are popular and sell well.

Sure, there are reasons to publish long, but it appears that there is definitely a new reading market, for ebook shorts.

So, are you publishing long, or short?


Related reading: How To Publish A Book The Right Way To Reach More Readers


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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

15 thoughts on “Why Do Short Ebooks Seem To Sell So Well?

  • My latest novella Céleste is easing towards 30,000. I can’t see it going much beyond that. So does that make it a long short by your calculations?

    • Well, a trade novel is around 110,000 words. So short I would say, Jack.

  • I’ve always written short, whether it was a term paper, news article or what have you. So imagine my surprise when my recently published debut came in at 90,000+ words. Even then, my scenes still run short for a novel (1,200 words or so.) My next book will likely be barely 60,000.

    So I figure my work–sweet romantic comedy– is a good fit for the ebook format. Still, I think in order to pull off the shorter formats successfully (novella, short story, poetry, song) you’ve got to have a great command of craft, just to make sure you’re not simply writing an underdeveloped story and leaving any essential dramatic elements out.

    It’s hard to write “simple!”

  • Off topic, but it would be really useful if you could include a ‘share’ option on your posts, so we can let other people know about them.

    • An interesting observation, Stuart. I did have share buttons on all posts, but I disabled them quite recently. Call it an experiment. Oddly enough though, since I removed them, the number of posts read per visit has doubled! Also, as most browsers and apps now have Facebook and Twitter sharing inbuilt, perhaps there is no real need for them.

      • Share buttons may put people off if they obscure the text and make it difficult to read. And that’s what I’m seeing today, Derek, on this otherwise interesting post on why short ebooks do well . A block of large share buttons come in from the left, obscuring three to four characters at the start of each line. You have to kind of scroll around them, as they hover always in the same place on the left side of the screen.

        Since you already have share buttons in a less annoying format at the top of the screen you could get rid of the ones on the left. It may be this browser behaviour that is putting readers off, rather than share buttons per se. It’s hard to test for this sort of thing as so many different combinations of hardware and software are in use nowadays.

        Meanwhile as a quick fix readers may be able to get rid of the problem by resizing their font (CTRL + mouse wheel). This works for me, using the Vivaldi browser on Windows 10.

        • Thanks for your feedback, Ian. It’s odd though. I have had these side share buttons on this site for ages. But in the last week, I have had two other readers comment on this. And yes, it is a problem designing site features for so many screen sizes and zoom modes. But anyway, the pesky buttons have now gone!

  • Short works out better for me, as that’s what I tend to write, despite my best efforts. I just have to accept that I don’t really write novels, that novellas are suitable for me and the way I write my stories. Since short ebooks sell better, these days, it’s all good.

  • I hate it when I’m surprised by a short story, mainly because it seems like the author was just trying to get out something quick and didn’t fully develop it. Though I will say on average the self-published ebooks I get do sometimes seem to be a bit shorter than the average book I’d buy from a store. However it’s usually not that big of a deal because the price is so much lower. However I have come across some that would’ve been barely a few pages long, but the worst are the ones who do serials and they’ve chopped up a novel and sell the few chapters at a time. That’s irritating because in the long run you’d end up paying way more than you would a regular novel just because you’re trying to finish the story. So it really depends on the quality I’m getting.

  • I think people spread their lives and time too thin. There are so many choices of things to do, that wasn’t available. I remember when I noticed that Reader’s Digest published condensed books. I wondered who decided what was missing in the story and if it wasn’t important why was there a long version in the first place. Then there was that little thin Shakespeare pamphlet that we all bought for English Lit. class; as if our teacher didn’t know we all bought one.

  • I’ve pondered that actually, other articles I’ve read suggest, for non-fiction, “say what you want to say” – meaning not to stretch the book out just because you feel you need to, as that shows.

    I’m writing a humorous A to Z, so it’s designed to be picked up and put down – I believe this will cater for modern lifestyles.

  • I find this very interesting. My daily post seems to be gathering a following. They are very short articles. I did not think they would be of interest. However i have strong memories, of the delightful shortened versions of some very famous books in Readers Digest. My memories go even furthur back to Enid Blyton’s Sunny Stories, which hooked me into reading. They were far less daunting than a whole book. Some of the stories held you in suspense, till the arrival of the next instalment, magical.
    Today the People’s Friend, is holding it’s own, with short story’s, instalments, and everyday dramas and culinary concoctions , to tempt us into the kitchen. With all the old make them yourself crafts, encouraging new small businesses..
    Waiting in my cupboard are a few 10 page stories, perhaps now is the time to send them out into the World., to test the water.

  • I write long (120k, 80k etc) and short (30k, 45k). My novella CONTINUITY GIRL is sci-fi… This genre seems popular for novella writers. I have also a collection (so far) of 6 books of my short stories, themed (sci-fi, crime, adventure, etc) which are all at novella length albeit individual previously published (and some prize-winning) short stories.

  • I write short story erotica. I have 11 ebooks out now that are not selling at all. I have only had sales during free promotions. I feel like I am wasting my time. My covers, keywords and descriptions are all good though. I have heard that other writers of short erotica are making loads of cash.
    I have no idea if I am doing something wrong or is it short story erotica in 2018 just aint what it use to me. Should I start writing novellas? I am so confused right now. What do you guys think?

  • Slightly off topic, but I haven’t found my calculation of kindle pages to be the same as yours. One of my books has 105,000 words, yet it is listed on kindle as only 269 pages.


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