The Girl Who Predicted The Future

October 14, 2010

Blank Stieg Larsson book cover
I think my girlfriend must be psychic. Two weeks ago she wrote a blog post with suggestions for Amazon’s Kindle store. And then Tuesday, Amazon actually implemented them! The funny thing was, I’d never even published her post. It’s been sitting on my hard drive. But apparently you can change Amazon’s Kindle store if you just think hard enough about it!

Tuesday Amazon created “Kindle Singles” — a new ebook format for books “that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book…priced much less than a typical book.” Amazon called their upcoming “Kindle Singles” section “a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.”

And here’s the magical blog post my girlfriend wrote which apparently triggered Amazon’s announcement.

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Please, please, please, list the length of the book! Or better yet, change the definition of what constitutes a book. For example, in order to be an e-book, there must be at least 250 pages (or an equivalent number of Locations). Anything less than that should be identified as an e-pamphlet. It’s irritating to spend time in the store looking for interesting titles only to discover that they’re only three dots long. Three dots!!! That’s not a book! It’s barely 10 minutes worth of reading.

These pamphleteers wisely don’t list the equivalent pages, because who would download an e-pamphlet of what would be five or seven printed pages…

I know that many of these ebooks are really samples of longer books. Maybe Amazon could create a separate section for Samples, so they’re not cluttering up the Top 100 list. (Although I’m happy they’re clearly listed as Samples, they shouldn’t be taking up space in the Top 100 Free list!) Actually, I would love to see a huge list of free sample chapters to browse through. And another new section could be “Books under a Buck,” maybe shorter ebooks or ebooks that are on sale for a limited time. What fun!

What I’ve determined is a few publishers of romance and soft porn figured out they can pull the first chapter out of a book, publish it as an “e-book”, put it on Amazon for free and then lure unsuspecting readers. According to reviewers, one publisher pulled out the short epilogue to a series of books and put it up on the Kindle Free section as an “e-book.” Excuse me?!? And yet in these nefarious cases, the reviews in Amazon’s Kindle store are usually reviews of the entire book, not just the actual excerpt that’s being offered for downloading. (How convenient…)

So using the reviews as a guide, I download the “e-book” which turns out to be the first chapter, or perhaps two chapters — which are indeed written as the first two chapters of a novel, setting up characters and a plot line which then shuts down prematurely. To add insult to injury, there are really only two dots worth of actual content; the third dot is marketing material in the form of an author bio and excerpts from other books by the same publisher. Of course, the rest of the novel costs money to download. This is not an e-book, it’s a marketing tool — and as such, should be banned from the Amazon Top 100 Free section. It’s the literary equivalent of premature ejaculation!

If Amazon’s Kindle Store lists the Location Size, this irritating practice will be exposed. At the very least, give us the information we need to make decisions about what to download! I know, with e-books it no longer makes sense to talk about how many ‘pages’ a book is, as there are no actual pages in evidence, and more and more books don’t have printed counterparts. Sometimes, when a book has a printed counterpart, Amazon will list its page count on its Kindle Store page. Sometimes not. But nowhere on the page is “Location Size” listed.

Once a download is complete, you can get a good idea of the length by looking at the line of dots just below the title. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has 15 dots, which translates to 4274 Locations. (estimated printed length-284 pages). Flowers for Elvis by Julia Schuster is listed with a print length of 248 pages. It has 11 dots, and 3186 locations. The Malacca Conspiracy (reviewed here) has 6554 Locations, and shows up on the Home page with 24 dots. So, a decent-sized novel is over 11 dots.

Here’s how Amazon’s Kindle Team defines locations: “the digital answer to page numbers. Since you can change the text size on Kindle, the page numbers would change too, but with locations, you can be confident that you return to the same place every time regardless of the text size you prefer.” This makes sense, but it’s also why they should add the total “Location Size” to each e-book’s description in the Kindle Store.

Amazon really needs to redesign their Store Pages. I don’t know if this is their official title, but I’m talking about the pages that open when you select a title to see more information and access reviews. I have some major gripes about this page because often it takes me sorting through review after review, or even downloading the entire ebook, before figuring out that it’s definitely not what I want. All this could be eliminated with a few more changes in the store page.

1. List the book’s genre. In a bookstore, I know the book’s genre by where I’m physically standing. If I’m in the Romance aisle, I know that The Big 5-Oh! is a romance novel. It is not always possible to tell by an e-book’s title or description what genre it belongs in. (Hmm, perhaps that is intentional, to trick people who don’t read romance novels?) I got sucked in by that e-book, and was disappointed about one-third of the way through when I realized there would be no plot development, only a story about how these two perfect soul mates would finally get together. Sigh. This is why I don’t read romance novels. And I never would have downloaded it if the genre was listed up front.

2. List the book’s publisher. This goes hand in hand with the genre. I do recognize some publishers and can make choices knowing what kind of books they publish (or don’t publish). Yet, a lot of times the publisher is not listed on the Kindle Store’s page. That would help me avoid e-books from publishers I’m no longer interested in.

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Who knows changes we’ll see next in Amazon’s Kindle store?

And in honor of Amazon’s new magazine article-length format, I’d like to remind you that you can now subscribe to The New Yorker on your Kindle!

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