Should Books Be Priced According to Their Length?

When I was in the publishing business, the sales staff often wanted to correlate a book’s length with its value. They believed that books with more pages should be priced higher. Books with fewer pages should be priced lower.

Stack of Books for Sale in a Bookstore - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bitterfly, Image #15504521

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bitterfly

But is this true?Yesterday, I got this e-mail from an unhappy customer about her purchase of Writing a Winning Book Proposal, my e-book for authors:

I felt hugely ripped off by your ‘book.’ You didn’t say anything I didn’t already know and didn’t address any of the questions I actually had. You used a big font to pad the pages, but your content was truly sparse. No publisher in the country would have published this ‘book’ and charged $20.

What you wrote was more of a pamphlet and should have been advertised as such. I was totally disillusioned that a Christian man of your caliber and reputation would burn me like that. I know we all have to make a living, but we need to make an honest one.

Let’s set aside her perception of the quality for a minute. If you go to the sales page, you’ll see about 20 endorsements from leading agents and about 1,200 from satisfied customers. These speak for themselves.

Let’s also set aside her charge that I somehow mis-represented the length of the book and was thus dishonest and ripped her off.

  • I explicitly say in the sales copy the book is only 32-pages long. I also say the price is not based on the page count.
  • I offer an unconditional, money-back guarantee with no time limit. All she had to do was ask. (In fact, I volunteered to do this again in my reply to her yesterday.)

The issue I want to focus on is the length.

Personally, I don’t think the value of information products, including books, is in their length. In fact, I could make the case that brevity is a benefit, especially in a world where we are so busy. If I can get what I need in a shorter amount of time, so much the better.

Like you, I have read long books that were worthless and short books that were invaluable. I don’t buy page-count, and I’ll bet you don’t either.

The issue is whether or not the content helps me accomplish my goals and provides a sufficient return on my investment.

Consider the fact that some of the shortest works in history had the greatest value as measured by their long-term impact.

  • The Gettysburg Address is only 256 words long—a little more than a page.
  • The Declaration of Independence is only 1,100 words long—about four pages.
  • The Sermon on the Mount is about 2,500 words long—about eleven pages.

I’m not equating my e-books to these great historical works. I am simply making the point that there is no necessary correlation between length and value.

When I was first starting in my publishing career, a salty old publisher told me, “A book should be like a woman’s skirt—long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep it interesting.”

Though sexist by today’s standards, the last half of his counsel is right. When we write or say anything, we should first focus on the message not the length.

Question: Do you think books and other information products should be priced according to length, value, or something else? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.johngallagherblog.com John Gallagher

    Pricing a book by page count would be like pricing food at a restaurant by calorie count.  While you may be getting a lot, it is not all good for you!!

    In any event, I buy the book for the value, which is determined by those who suggest it to me, credibility of the author, or topic I am trying to learn. 

  • Roy

     

    One of the best tech books I have read this year was “802.11n:
    A Survival Guide” By Matthew Gast, 146 pages, of which only 120 is the real
    meet of the book.  Learned a lot about
    ‘N’ wireless, Mr. Gast can write right to the point.

    • Roy

      Oh, and the hardcopy book was $20…

  • Ian Altman

    Michael – you hit the nail on the head!  People have gotten used to paying by the hour or by the unit. I have never met someone looking to “read 184 pages” or contract for “37.4 hours of expertise.”  Generally, people buy to solve challenges or accomplish things. 

    The real measure should be the value you receive. When I launched my book (I left the title out to avoid self-promotion), my goal was to deliver quick content that was meaningful. It is a book people can read in less than an hour. I was thrilled by the positive reviews it received. Nearly every person commented that they appreciated that there was no fluff – just useful content.  I could have said the same thing and drawn out the length. One reviewer said that he reads the book every month or two to remind himself of what he should be doing.

    I know too many people who are 1/2 way through a book (or 20% done).  Bite-sized publications I think will become increasingly popular.

    Thanks for having me along for the ride.

    Ian Altman

  • WilliamIV

    I battled with this while writing my manuscript. A one page document that changes the world is better than a thousand page book with no wisdom.

  • Eldon Sarte

    You said: “If I can get what I need in a shorter amount of time, so much the better.”

    Exactly. So, it stands to reason then that some of the customers of these books aren’t really looking for the “answers” you’re providing then, and are really consuming these products to try and satisfy some other totally different need, eh?Good post, btw. Including it in today’s Wordpreneur Reader. Thumbs up!

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  • Mike

    As the complaint that sparked this blog illustrates, value is subjective: you believe you’d fairly priced your material; your customer did not.  You nobly and in good faith back up your evaluation with a money-back guarantee; however, all marketers know that many if not most dissatisfied customers in today’s busy society will not go to the time and trouble to follow up on such a guarantee.  Further, an ebook is a much more intangible product than a book: information and ideas alone are all that is exchanged; the mode of conveying them (as well as their likely endurance in time and in our minds) is greatly diminished in comparison to the paper and ink of the past. I am in no way suggesting that we not receive proper compensation for the blood, sweat and tears that our experience and education may have cost us to generate that information in the first place; however, while you might be applauded for communicating your message with succinct clarity, you might equally be condemned for leaving out nuance and detail that would carry your message into the heart and soul of your reader.  Perhaps we readers need “all those pages,” your message fleshed out and well written, to rest assured that the main points have indeed changed our lives in some significant way.  If you had accomplished your goal in only 32 pages, the question would never have been raised.

  • http://elisafreschi.blogspot.com/ elisa freschi

    I do not know about your client, but coming from Europe, I can somehow understand at least part of her feelings. When I read your “Life Plan” e-book I was irritated by the large fonts and the designe, which forced me to turn pauselessly from page to page. I am not scared by long and full pages and I enjoy reading more than page-turning and “screening” in a superficial way. I know too well that most people prefer cartoons over books and have never even thought about reading War and Peace, but maybe you might consider adding a sample page, so that people like me can see what they will receive (and decide accordingly)?

     

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  • Sync100

    Great thinking…couldn’t agree more with it

  • martin

    The value of the message is in the solution of the problem, the advice or  the insight.  All other aspects are irrelevant.  

    I have read countless books that repeated the same thing over and over, many different ways.  I also read many short and concise books that presented the massage once; clearly.  Short and sweet books are better because they save us time.  We read it once and we hopefully comprehend the massage.  If we don’t get the massage the first time then we can always read the book again.  To many times authors (even best selling authors) include “fillers”  in their books.  It’s like putting useless sugar in otherwise healthy breakfast.  

    The wrong idea seems to be following:  The length or the size = the perceived value.  

    It is easier to sell something heavier or bigger.  Personally, I feel like my time is waisted when I read useless fillers.  I catch myself thinking:  man! get to the point…  give me the bottom line.  So what’s your point? etc…
      The value is not in the number of pages.  The value is in the content, the solution, the advice and the wisdom presented in the book.  Martin  

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