Ebook Word CountWhen you buy an ebook, do you check to see what value you are getting for your money? With books, the value is in pages and words, so how many words are there in an ebook?

If you shop for ebooks on Kindle, you’ll only have a reference to the file size, not a word count. The file size can vary greatly depending on many factors other than just words, so this really tells you nothing at all about the value of your purchase. At least Smashwords are more open and honest and give an estimate of the word count in each listed book.

I find Kindle’s reluctance to give word count information rather interesting, as it is something that is very simple to calculate. Every word processor in existence can do it, so why not Kindle and Amazon with all their technical resources? My belief is that it is intentional. It makes all Kindle ebooks equal and supports my suspicion that Kindle are in fact promoting and are profiteering from the $0.99 ebook pricing model. Think about it. If you were Kindle, would you prefer to pay out 33% royalties or 70% ? Not to mention the famous ‘Free International Wireless Delivery’ charge of $0.33 they so rudely add to ebooks for many non US and UK ebook buyers.

Amazon Kindle’s ‘Price Matching Feature’ is another avenue by which they reduce ebook prices and thus royalty payouts to authors and is really a little technical mystery. A mystery in the sense that they have enough tools to discover you are having a little sale on your own website and quickly drop your Kindle price to match, but they are not technically equipped to be able to inform you by email that they have done it. If you haven’t had this happen to you, be warned.

Perhaps I’m getting neurotic in my old age, but I smell a rat. While ebook publishing has given many a wonderful opportunity to publish, I still have the sneaking suspicion I can smell exploitation in the Kindle 99c pricing model.

While it would never happen in a million years, I would much prefer that Smashwords were the ebook supplier of choice for ebook readers. At least they are open in their product description and are fair to authors in their royalty structures.

How Thick Is An Ebook?
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18 thoughts on “How Thick Is An Ebook?

  • 09/09/2011 at 3:49 pm

    Bravo! I, too, am frustrated by Amazon and B&N only showing file size for their e-books. It can’t be that hard to show word count, or even estimated page count. I’d probably be willing to pay more than 99c for a full sized novel. The best I can do right now is guess based on the file sizes of previous purchases.

  • 09/09/2011 at 4:29 pm

    The file size can be so misleading Tom. Depending what is included in the file, images, tags, page breaks etc, it is impossibly to equate the KB count into a word count. I hadn’t checked B&N, so thanks for increasing my suspicions that this is an intentional omission and deception.

  • 09/09/2011 at 4:32 pm

    So it’s not just me. LOL

    I’ve started putting the type of book (novel, novella, short story), the word count and approximate page count in my descriptions. I want readers to know what they’re getting for their money.

    • 09/09/2011 at 5:05 pm

      You should be congratulated for your openness Suzan. I agree that readers should know what value they are getting for their money. Seems rather logical to me.

  • 09/09/2011 at 4:59 pm

    Only certain books on there display the ‘print length’ in pages. I think it’s a bit weird that they don’t include a word count. As you say, Derek, smashwords have a rough estimate of the word-length of each book. So why not Amazon. But then again I suppose the new digital publishing model is geared towards shorter works for penny change. So Amazon would be hobbling themselves in showing that a book for 1.99c is only 20,000 words long whereas as a similar book by a different author is 99.c but 65,000 words long. This way both sizes sell because the Amazon consumers don’t really know what they’re buying.

    I don’t agree with Amazon’s thinking, but I sort of understand where they’re coming from. Like I said… ‘sort of’……….

    • 09/09/2011 at 5:03 pm

      Thanks for your comment Tony. I think your ‘sort of’ understanding goes towards my thinking that they are ‘sort of’ promoting their 99c price model. It would be interesting to publish a one word book on Kindle though, wouldn’t it? lol

  • 09/09/2011 at 5:32 pm

    Personally, I think 99c is a fair price for a well-written short novel, novella, or even a short story, BUT I absolutely agree that the reader needs to know what they are purchasing, so as to not feel DUPED. If they are willing to spend money on a shorter work, that’s great, but they need to know that it is indeed a shorter work so they can make an informed decision. With Amazon not making it standard policy to include word count or page equivalent, they are unfairly leaving it up to the writers/publisher to provide this info, and it seems that most of them are not doing that.

  • 09/09/2011 at 7:05 pm

    I don’t think it is a dishonesty thing so much as a practical matter. a lot of self published books include blurbs, advertisements etc that can have very high word counts. I have downloaded free stories that have previews for novels that are longer than the story. They probably just don’t want to deal with having to have someone make sure the word counts are for the story and not for the fluff.

    but i would agree that word counts would be great. hell barnes and noble doesnt even show a description for my book I published through smashwords. how crappy is that? who is going to buy a book with zero description no word count and costs .99 cents. I have been contemplating putting a review up that is instead just a word count description but i dont know if i could resist giving myself 5 stars. :)

  • 09/09/2011 at 7:49 pm

    I wonder why there’s no place for the author to mark it off if (perhaps even “if and only if”) they choose to? I have made it obvious on my blog and twitter that my current ebooks are novellas, but there’s no way to do that on Amazon short of putting that in the description…which then takes room away from describing the story. I can see how it would be obnoxious for readers who just stumble onto new books rather than seeking them out via reviews or author sites, not to know what they’re actually buying….

    • 09/09/2011 at 8:08 pm

      While you try to make it clear that you write novellas Lily, some do not. So do I have to also say that I write long books? I really have a feeling that my work of 115,000 words is worth the same as one of your novellas under the Kindle marketing model. Not casting aspersions upon you, but it does seem to be a very un-level playing field?

  • 09/09/2011 at 7:54 pm

    As a consumer I don’t buy books based on word count. Words without thought behind them are meaningless. I’d like to think that I’m buying entertaining stories and original ideas rather than empty words.

    As an author that has a novel (51,000 words) published on the kindle at the U.S. selling price of $1.41, I think I would have been happier if I had chosen a more profitable hobby. Regardless of the pennies so rudely thrown at me for 10 years of work, I still and will always remain a faithful writer. That’s just who I am.

    • 09/09/2011 at 8:23 pm

      I have to strongly disagree Jenue. Firstly, any author who has slaved away on a novel of 120k words must have some thought behind their words. Also for many of us, this is not a hobby. We are writers and authors who are being severely affected by these deceptive practices by ebook distributors.

      I don’t look for people to rudely throw me money. I look to sell my books because they have something to say and are good value for money. They are also the way I put food on my table.

      If you think so lowly of your writing that you can say that people ‘rudely’ throw you money, I believe it’s time you found a new hobby and stop at your mere 51K words.

      I’m sorry if my comments offend, but your attitude seriously offends me.

  • 09/09/2011 at 9:20 pm

    Hi :)

    Very interesting post.

    I use mostly Smashwords, because I have an e-reader which is neither Kindle nor Nook. Yes, ok, they can be converted, but only if they have no DRM. I spent more than half an hour to try to work around a file to be able to read it on my e-reader, but no luck. I didn’t buy the book from that author. Anyway, that is about the Smashwords you mentioned.

    As for the word count, yes, I do consider it. Not only because of the value for money issue, but because I’m mostly interested in reading novels, not short-stories. But that’s my preference.

    And I agree, the word count should be offerred by the author. A book is a product and any product has weight or other measures (software programs have bites) on the label and it’s required by laws. Why shouldn’t be the same with books?

  • 10/09/2011 at 5:25 am

    There are several ways to get around the problem, some of them dependent on authors, and some on readers, if they’re willing to go to the trouble. I publish on Smashwords, but upload to B & N myself, so there is a description. A statement of word count really doesn’t take that much away from the description. At the very least, you can state whether it’s a short story, novella or novel.

    As a reader, I sometimes check to see if there is a print version which will tell me the page count. If the book has an online publisher, there will usually be at least some information. I often read descriptions and samples on the publisher’s site first, then check on Amazon to see if it’s been discounted.

  • 10/09/2011 at 2:21 pm

    I have to agree there is a problem. I recently purchased an eBook from one of my favorite authors. It was only 8000 words long!!! I was pissed when I realized I had paid $5.99 for an 8,000 word blurb.

    I enjoy this author’s writing. I have since I discovered him in college. But 8,000 words… really?

    Great post. Great point! So, do I change my own Amazon / Barnes & Nobel description to say – “Hey, this is a 65k word book!”?

  • 10/09/2011 at 2:52 pm

    I agree that Kim should feel robbed. I just uploaded my first ever novella and had a hard decision setting a price. Since Whispers Publishing listed my 30K WORD DRAGON’S CURSE for $4.95, I have listed MY 16+K word DRAGON IN THE MIST for $2.99. I think that is fair. I spent $151 for the cover, plus the months it took me to write and edit the book. I agree. Amazon and B&N should follow Smashwords example.

  • 10/09/2011 at 3:40 pm

    Great post! I just bought and read an ebook by a friend thinking it would be a full-length novel for more than 99 cents & was a little miffed it was only a novella. I might have bought it anyway, but it would have been nice to know.


  • 13/09/2011 at 1:24 am

    Interesting post, Derek. I saw that Barry Eisler included word count and approximate printed page numbers in his book description for “Paris is a Bitch,” so I started doing that for my short stories. I still get complaints that the free books are too short. So I published one of my 100K+ word novels. That will show them. ;) (And I succumbed to the lure of 99 cents… At least for now.) I didn’t put the word count this time. I think only writers can calculate how big a book is from the word count in their heads, due only to years of following submission guidelines. I just said “Full length novel.” We’ll see what happens.

    Linsey, Someone Else’s Daughter

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