We recently wondered here — How Long is a Piece of String? — and today I’d like to take that question to the next thought to ask: “How Long is a Book?”

As we move into the Digital Age of Electronic Self-Publishing, and the loss of the Editorial Evil Eye, new questions of quality and content begin to beg the edges of a book world in which an author can now easily become the publisher of their own work.

Do you anticipate any loss of readability when an author decides to publish directly to you? What perils would you expect to find in the process?

How long is a book? Is a book 100 pages? 50 pages? Can a book be a single page? When does a book become so big that it gets split into volumes? 800 pages? 1,000 pages? Once you decide how long a work needs to be to be considered a book — then share with us “how long” is an article, a story and a poem. Are those efforts more appropriately measured in word counts instead of pages?

Should we begin to consider books by their word count instead of their page count? Are words a more reliable indicator of quality and effort than pages? If you feel books cannot be considered by their mass of words or pages — then what makes for a “Book Experience” over a simple “Reading Experience?”

As we move away from the printed page and into the digital realm where text size can be reformatted on the screen in real time — sometimes “doubling” the number of virtual “pages” you need to “turn” in the process — we begin, for the first time in our shared human history, to question function over format and experience over expectation when we consider the traditional role of the book in society.


  1. Your image is it. Regular books for me. A book is more than one page. Is ten pages a book? It depends on the journey. I don’t consider words books. Books to me are pages.

  2. There you are, Anne!
    I know you’re a big book lover. An e-reader like the Kindle can store 200 books RIGHT THERE in a single form factor. Why doesn’t that impress you as the next wave of reading?
    Is a page on a screen the same to you as print on hardcopy?

  3. I would like my library in one place. I worry about losing notes. I like dog-eared pages. I would not like to stare at a screen. I like paper.

  4. An ebook like the Kindle stores all your highlights and notes ON A SERVER so you can recall them at will and even on future Kindles if you are so inclined. It’s your “go virtual” guarantee of functionality when it comes to keeping all your books in one place. Sure, it’s proprietary, but so what?
    eInk, I understand, looks remarkably like print on a traditional page. I can’t wait to try it out.

  5. I wonder if future Kindles will offer the ability to get digital autographs from authors.
    I like the thought that I could write notes on a page and then erase them and have it be as though the note never was there.
    I think the length of the book can be determined by word count. According to NaNoWriMo, a novel is 50,000 words at least – and that’s a pretty short novel. 🙂

  6. Gordon!
    I love the idea of signing books on a Kindle. I’m sure some of the bigger authors would even write something specific for you for the right price! The Harry Potter lady could probably earn another billion doing just that! 😀
    Do you have a link that says a book is 50,000 words? I think a book is more than a static number — but I’ve never heard of a minimum word count like that before. I’m sure there are plenty of examples of successful books that are tiny in form and few in words.

  7. The NaNoWriMo page on the topic is here. They say that 50k words is a novella or a short novel. They say 50k because it can be done in a month and that’s the whole point of NaNoWriMo. 🙂

  8. That’s a good link, Gordon, thanks. I think 50,000 is a fine number for a book.
    I also think a “book” could be four pages!
    I don’t like these separations between writing styles and memes — novella to chapbook to novel to article to book-length magazine article.
    It is what it should be and e-readers will help blur that line even more because we won’t have a need for those labels. We’ll just have “text” that you will enjoy, read, and — we hope — pay to enjoy! 😀
    I can also see a rising scale that, as a text becomes more popular, the price will rise 1 percent of a penny or so for each one sold — so hot texts will become hotter faster as readers will want to jump on the train before the price becomes too high. Then, as the text begins to die, a sliding scale tips in that will more quickly reduce the price of the text down to nearly free — unless it gets hot again!

  9. That sounds a bit like Sony’s idea of the reverse auction – where the price goes down as time goes on and people have to debate whether to wait and get a lower price or maybe miss out entirely. The rising scale idea is brilliant 🙂

  10. Hi Gordon!
    I’ve never understood why hot “books” are discounted so deeply and ordinary books have such a high price. I understand the thinking that a hot book will sell more at a lower price — but what makes a hot book? A low price? I don’t think people care about price when they want to really read a book.

  11. Showing my Luddite tendenceies here again – give me a real book I can take to bed, take in the garden, read in the bath or on the beach. I can give it as a gift instead of a hot-linked page.
    The lengths of a book depends on the story it tells.

  12. Nicola!
    Ah! Our beloved Luddite returns! We’ve been waiting for you with our video phones and digitized pitchforks! :mrgreen:
    You can read your Kindle in bed, in the garden, and even in the bath if you don’t drop it in — but you’d have the same trouble with a paper book 😀 — you can give your used Kindle as a gift to any friend you like! Gordon is looking for one right now with outstretched arms and begging palms! 😉
    eBooks save trees, speed delivery and get authors directly in contact with their readers. Sure, the eReaders right now and clunky and immature, but in five years or so I bet they’re more ordinary than extraordinary.
    Love your definition of what makes a book! Bravo! And it has nothing to do with paper or print or smelling of antiquity!

  13. (Sorry have been out for the day)
    I really hope not – I would hate to think of a world without books as we know them. Some of my best friends are books.

  14. Nicola!
    Yes! I agree! My books are my friends! But why can’t books be in a different shape and form and still remain your friend?
    Do you have virtual friendships that you value less because they are not traditional in person friendships? 30 years ago it wasn’t possible to have an online friendship on an immediate and ongoing basis.

  15. Different is the key word there. They will not be the same – and in 30 years time I shall need large print if I am still around !
    My on-line friendships are different to my person to person friendships – with on-line friendships you have only half the story ( if that).
    You so not have the body language, you do not have the tone of voice – you don not have the sense of smell – although your video phone idea will change some of that – but not all of it.

  16. To Clarify My Position On Friendship:
    I don’t make any delineation between “in person” and “online” friendships. If you’re my friend, you’re my friend. It doesn’t matter if I’ve smelled you in person or virtually poked you online.
    Gordon Davidescu and I have worked together on the web, virtually only, for over seven years. We have only communicated in email and via this blog. We have never held a conversation on the phone or met in person. I consider Gordon as close a friend as I have ever had — even those friends I grew up with in “real time” and “live and in person” in Nebraska or fought through graduate school with at Columbia.

  17. The reason I make the difference is because of getting caught out once or twice with on-line friendships when I have eventually met that person. Maybe the trick is never to meet them!

  18. That’s a fair point. I have had the same experience. Online people come across one way and in person they can come off another — but is that any different than learning more about an only-in-person friend and then deciding the friendship no longer is warranted?

  19. I would think it is very similar ……. I always feel more peeved at the loss if it is a real life friendship .
    I guess I will have to have a new category of friends – blogging friends 🙂 – the ones I have yet to meet!

  20. Rising Scale Payouts

    I have been wondering a lot lately about why hot books don’t cost more than ordinary books and also how a Rising Scale Payout might work in our new eReader world of direct book distribution:I can also see a rising

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