Why Do Short Ebooks Seem To Sell So Well?

Why Do Short Ebooks Sell Well

Do readers prefer short ebooks to read? I’ll try to keep the answer short.

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 Amazon lists the ebook as being only 105 pages long.

That’s short by any measure. But it’s not easy to calculate the number of words in an ebook. You first need to know what defines a page on Kindle.

What is novella length?

I did a quick check of one of my ebooks, which is a short novella. Amazon calculates it to be 112 pages long.

my take away vampire

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

Using the same equation, it means that Amazon class a page of an ebook at around 180 words.

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

When you consider that a full-length novel is between 50,000 and 80,000 words or more, we are talking here about writing and publishing very short fiction ebook reads.

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 four short ebooks at around 100 pages, and they were priced between $1.99 and $3.99.

That is a similar price range to full-length novels.

Out of interest, I checked my old battered first edition paperback copy of The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

hhgttg

It is a hugely popular classic, but it has only 159 pages. Yes, it’s a very thin paperback and a quick read.

But the latest Kindle edition must have some added extras because it seems to have grown in page count over the years.

hhgttg kindle pages

However, even at 208 pages, it could still be considered a novella-length work at around 35,000 words.

To go to the extreme of popular short book classics, A Message To Garcia by Elbert Hubbard is available on the Kindle Store. It is only 26 pages long.

I could have dug deeper and found more quite quickly. But I had discovered more than I needed to know. The novella form is popular with readers and especially ebook buyers.

 

Do novellas sell?

novellas sell

Is there a market for novella ebooks, and do they sell? Yes, they do sell well.

Here are two ebooks that I found and then extracted the sales data by using Publisher Rocket.

lila the one

This ebook is only 29 pages but has monthly sales of $416.00.

Another one has even better sales.

65 things

Again, it is extremely short at 28 pages, or just under 5,000 words. But it rakes in nearly $1,000.00 a month in sales.

I could have added the details of many more books I found. But these two are sufficient to give you enough proof of how well short ebooks can sell.

Do readers check the page count when they buy an ebook? I doubt it.

If an ebook is available on Kindle Unlimited, I dare say a reader wouldn’t even bother to look.

In other words, it’s the attraction of the story that counts, and not the length.

 

Why are novellas popular?

There has been a lot written about how reading an ebook is different from reading a book.

This article from the Guardian takes the view that readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper.

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

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

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

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

All of these situations are prone to interruption, unlike reading a long work of speculative fiction 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.

 

Self-publishing novellas

novella ebooks

Firstly, it’s worth defining what counts as a novella. In general, it is a work of fiction of between 20,000 and 50,000 words.

However, novellas now are usually much closer to the lower word count range, or below.

Sure, there are reasons to publish long. But it appears that there is definitely a reading market for selling short stories.

Luckily, Amazon has a limit on how short an ebook can be.

It’s not widely publicized, but Amazon rarely accepts to publish ebooks of 2,500 words or less. You can find the note in KDP help under disappointing content. It mentions that Amazon KDP does not allow publishing of content that is too short.

This limitation stops most publishers of extremely short flash fiction.

But for fiction authors, there is an opportunity to chop a full-length novel of 100,000 words into three parts perhaps and publish three ebooks instead of one.

When you can sell a short ebook for around the same price as a full novel, it’s a simple mathematical equation. It might also be a profitable business decision.

 

Short is in for self-help ebooks

If you want to buy very short ebooks, look no further than how-to and self-help ebooks.

Many of them are a cut and paste job of a handful of blog posts and articles of 1,000 words with the addition of a compelling introduction.

It really is super easy to publish an ebook from your blog posts.

There’s a lot of reader interest in self-help ebooks, which makes it a lucrative market. For any author or writer, it’s certainly a market worth investigating.

You can use short nonfiction ebooks to help you promote your blog or to sell your services. Or yes, to sell them on Amazon and make some money.

 

Summary

For authors, publishing short creates many new publishing possibilities.

It opens the door to write short story collections, novellas, prose fiction, or self-help nonfiction.

The most significant advantage is that short ebooks take less time to write. On top of that, you can expect to sell a short ebook at a similar price to a full novel.

These are compelling reasons to publish shorter and more often.

If you’re about to write a new book, are you going to publish long, or short?

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent teaching English and writing, as well as testing and taming new technology.

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

  • September 1, 2019 at 1:53 pm
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    I am Shortstory Woman. says it all, Right? ;) yet another great article! Ur my number 1 source for Information and getting better and better! Keep up the great work!

    Reply
  • May 28, 2019 at 4:54 am
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    Hello

    How long are your stories (if you dont mind me asking) I am currently writing a story and at times I feel like it’s going to end with barely 60 pages done.
    I know the story isnt a novel but I’m curious as to how many pages it should be to sell well as an ebook

    Thank you

    Reply
    • May 28, 2019 at 7:05 am
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      Hello Rey. I generally class a novella as around 30,000 words and a full novel at between 60-80,000 words. But there are no strict rules.

      Reply
  • August 4, 2018 at 11:36 am
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    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.

    Reply
    • June 11, 2019 at 10:37 am
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      Yes, my book is 97k and also shows as 269 Pages. Even the physical book is 330, so, who knows how they come up with this.

      Reply
  • July 15, 2018 at 9:31 pm
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    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?

    Reply
  • April 2, 2018 at 3:06 pm
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    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.

    Reply
  • November 5, 2017 at 7:04 am
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    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.

    Reply
  • October 21, 2017 at 9:54 am
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    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.

    Reply
  • October 21, 2017 at 9:22 am
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    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.

    Reply
  • September 13, 2017 at 9:23 pm
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    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.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2016 at 10:11 am
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    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.

    Reply
  • January 22, 2016 at 12:44 pm
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    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.

    Reply
    • January 22, 2016 at 12:51 pm
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      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.

      Reply
      • March 16, 2018 at 11:59 pm
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        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.

        Reply
        • March 17, 2018 at 7:16 am
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          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!

          Reply
  • January 17, 2016 at 5:44 pm
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    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!”

    Reply
  • January 17, 2016 at 3:33 pm
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    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?

    Reply
    • January 17, 2016 at 3:35 pm
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      Well, a trade novel is around 110,000 words. So short I would say, Jack.

      Reply

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