Tuesday, December 14, 2010

E-books and E-publishers – should there be standards?

Let me begin by admitting that I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s an important question to consider.

I firmly believe e-ink technology is the best thing to happen to books since the printing press. I absolutely love my Sony Reader, and every time I pick up a monster hardcover (the latest Wheel of Time book comes to mind), I gain a new appreciation for the fact that I can carry an entire library in my purse. I love how accessible books are. I love that so many out-of-print titles are making an electronic comeback, and I love how e-books have opened up a whole new world of unique, small-press and self-published voices.

Over the past year, I’ve bought e-books from no fewer than a dozen different online bookstores, and that doesn’t include the titles I’ve bought directly from the authors, or that I’ve received from other sources for review.

What I’ve noticed, and what’s really begun to annoy me lately, is that there are seemingly no standards for how an e-book is produced or marketed.

Some stores/publishers provide you with a page count, others with a file-size, and others with nothing at all. Unless you’re buying a mass-market title, you really don’t know what you’re getting. Sometimes you can use the file-size as a rough guide, but that can so easily be inflated by a high-resolution cover, interior artwork, or just the format of the book itself, that it’s often meaningless. A short story can be over 1MB in size, and a full-length novel can easily be in the range of 150kb.

I don’t know how many times I’ve bought an e-book figuring I was at least getting a decent-sized novella, only to discover it’s a very short story.

That brings me to my other complaint, especially with some small-press publishers, and that’s padding of the page count. I purchased an e-book a few weeks ago that was 20 pages in length – already a short read compared to what I expected based on the file-size. As it turns out, however, only 9 of those 20 pages were actual story (8 if you consider that the first started half-way down the page, and the last ended with just 3 sentences on the page)! The first 4 pages were a cover, title-page, list of other titles, and dual warnings about sexual content and piracy; the last 7 pages were synopses of other books from the same publisher.

I'm not saying that other material isn't important, and I completely understand the value of cross-promotion, but when your book is more filler than story, that's a pretty poor deal in my book. I paid to read the author's words, and I based the 'fair value' I was willing to pay on how much story I thought I was getting for my money. It's upsetting when you feel like you've been ripped off, and it sours you on the experience of that publisher (and potentially that author, which isn't fair).

What do you think? I am overreacting, or has anybody else experienced that same frustration? Have you just come to expect the unknown factor that comes with opening an e-book, or do you perhaps just restrict yourself to known authors and publishers?


  1. Unless I'm familiar with an author, I don't buy a book without reading a sample (regardless of whether I intend to buy print or digital). The sample usually gives me an idea of the length of the book. It's not a foolproof method, though. Word count would be a good standard (Smashwords displays word count).

    My pet peeve: I download a sample and the entire thing is front matter, review excerpts, and/or advertising for other books by the author.

  2. Sounds like an invention: A method for easily identifying the content of an e-book. The electronic version of "thumbing through." Totally makes sense though.

    I thought some e-publishers did stuff like that though. no? Maybe it just needs to be better thought out or something.

  3. I've ranted about this many times. I try to find a word count somewhere. Often, unless it's a book that just came out, you can go to Fictionwise and look, they always put a word count.

    I think All Romance Ebooks also posts a word count.

    I've been disappointed many times. I also like to know word count because of the prices. So often books are sold at $4 or more and it's like 5K words. That's ridiculous. Loveyoudivine is one of the worst offenders on that one.

    Since I like reading lesbian or f/f and they aren't that easy to find in ebook, I tend to buy books just because they are the only thing available in f/f or lesbian. But I've gotten savvy to whom to buy from to get my money's worth.

    And I don't care how much I want a book, I won't pay more than $7 for an ebook unless it's really long.