Thanks to Wiley colleague Jim Minatel for passing along this Gadgetopia blog post about short books. As a computer book publisher I know I've been guilty of applying the faulty logic that bigger is indeed better. As a consumer, I pull my hair out reading lengthy chapters that could have been boiled down to a paragraph or two.
I find it particularly interesting that the Gadgetopia post refers to a book from our editorial team, the Content Management Bible. And while it's been a very strong seller for us, it's also admittedly a pretty lengthy book. The post also talks about our group's WROX Blox initiative and how attractive it is for programmers looking for shorter length works.
Since it's unlikely all authors and publishers will suddenly come together to start producing shorter books, how can this problem be addressed? I'm not sure about the print world, but I can see a new model that's perfect for the e-content side. It all has to do with how the content is written, edited and assembled. More importantly, it's tied to this "content layering" concept I've been wrestling with here on my blog for the past few years.
I'm going to position this as a Kindle solution since that's the e-content platform I'm currently immersed in. Imagine a world where a customer could buy that Content Management Bible, or more accurately, a summary of that Content Management Bible on the Kindle. This product might not be much more than a Cliffs Notes version of the book, coming in at 5-10% of the full book's page count. So now a 1,000-page book is condensed down to 100 pages, max. And instead of a $49.99 price, the 100-page version might only be $5 or $10.
Some customers might find exactly what they need in this 100-page version. Most, I suspect, will want more though. For those customers looking for more, additional, expanded content is offered for each section. So maybe chapter 24, Working with Metadata, is 26 pages long in the print book but that content is condensed down to 2 pages in the short e-version. That works for some customers but others need the full 26-page coverage. There would be links throughout the 100-page book for customers to optionally purchase more in depth material for each section. Maybe that full version of chapter 24 would sell for $3, but it would be quickly accessible to the customer thanks to the Kindle's wireless content delivery model. The Kindle would then automatically splice this deeper content right where it belongs, between the summary content for chapters 23 and 25.
Two layers might be enough, but some books might need more. A key point is that the book would no longer be a two-dimensional work. The depth that comes with this layered approach has to be considered throughout the authoring, editorial, page layout and indexing processes. It requires a totally different mindset but one that might result in a more efficient (and rewarding) reading experience for everyone.