Reading Stats and Paradigm Shifts
Content Access, Sharing and Mashups

Spine Widths

SpinesThis is the first follow-up post to the rather lengthy rant I went on yesterday...

So have you ever read a book and wondered why the 30 or 40 pages of great information was spread out across a 300- or 400-page book?  Part of that has to do with creating a product that has a visible spine presence.

Walk through your local bookstore and you'll quickly realize that 80%, 90% or more of the books on hand are positioned "spine-out" (as opposed to "face-out" where you can see the front cover).  The spine becomes a mini-billboard for the book in the store; the bigger the spine, the larger the billboard.  Additionally, books with tiny spines often get lost on the shelves.

That all changes in the online world, of course.  Spine width is pretty much meaningless on Amazon,,, etc.  Different mechanisms are used to call attention to books on a web page and physical dimensions don't come into play.

So is it possible that as the e-content world evolves and becomes a much larger slice of the total publishing revenue pie we'll see page counts drop?  Possibly, but not if much of the e-content is a simple port of print content.  Then there's the value proposition.  Would the typical consumer place the same value on a 400-page book as they would a 40-page condensed e-version of that book?  That's hard to tell but it's definitely something worth experimenting with.

This is particularly tricky when you compare the price of a print book with the price of an e-book.  Most people tend to feel the print book is worth more because of its portability and the fact that physical materials went into manufacturing it.  When that same content exists only in bits and bytes it suddenly has less perceived value, so how much more value does it lose when it also shrinks by 90%?  I'm probably in the minority on this, but since time is money, I think the 40-page condensed e-version of that book is worth more than the 400-page print version; the latter takes me 10 times longer to read and I'll gladly pay a premium for that feature.  But as I mentioned, I'm probably in the minority...



Since I am a writer, I agree with you. As a reader, I want my ebook to save me time and money. I love my Kindle. So far this year I have read nine books. Last year my goal was 25 and then year before 50. I had school last year, and will for part of the time this year. Nevertheless, I think I am uping my goal to 100. At sixty one I have limited time, but then again we all in that boat.

Dave Taylor

Interesting point, Joe, but don't you also need to take "folio count" into consideration too? (I'm reaching back in my memory, but I'm pretty sure that the 16 page / 32 page "signatures" that comprise a book are factored as "folio count". If not, well, you know what I mean)

I have certainly been involved with book projects where I have been told that I had to hit a certain pagecount requirement independent of whether I had that much to say or not, but then again, for every book that's long for the sake of length there seems to be another book that could have spent a bit more space explaining a particularly abstract concept or demonstrating a tricky technique.

Ted Demopoulos, Blogging for Business


I agree entirely -- a book should be the length needed to properly convey its content. I'd probably be willing to pay more for a shorter book -- I value my time :)

I certainly understand the spine width. My last book has a narrow spine and it tends to disappear on the shelves. How long is my last book? Exactly the length the publisher specified, not necessarily the "correct length" for the ideas inside. Actually in this case I wanted about 50 more pages, because I had another 50 pages of content.

Joe Wikert

Hey Dave, that whole folio count or signature count issue is another print legacy. It completely goes away in the e-world.


I'm inclined to think that ebook length won't drop as long as we-the-consumers continue to associate size/quantity with value for money and inherent worth. The leading edge for change, perhaps, is the over-stretched minority who have a firm grasp on the value of time -- notably, business people who seek straight-up information for PDQ problem-solving. Witness the 'abridged' versions of books such as David Allen's _Getting Things Done_ at Audible, for example...


ebooks tend to be longer in terms of pages than normal books depending on what font size you choose and how big your screen is.

I imagine that publishers spend a lot of time trying to keep books shorter than writers want them to be. The lack of editorial influence by publishers over ebooks may mean that they become really bloated.

Eoin Purcell


Couldn't we just get over the spine width fixation and publish books in shorter formats!
Of course, as you suggest there would be pricing issues to resolve but I think it might well be worth while!

I'd love the shorter books too!


I agree quality content over volume-for-the-sake-of-page-count content makes sense especially since it saves me time. Like newspapers are learning that online content needs to be more than a reprint of their print content, so I hope e-book will learn to effectively use the dynamics of electronic media. I would not mind paying more to get rid of the filler content.

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