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Old 08-31-2009, 07:37 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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How big is that e-book anyway?

I'm prone to strange musings when I'm tired. Tonight, I noticed something - When reading an e-book, it's very hard to get an idea of how thick or long a book is. It's not hard with a paper book. You look at it, or feel the weight, maybe look at the last page, and then you peek at a few sample pages to see how much fits on each page. Then you just sort of "know" how long the book is, and what the page count means.

But when you read an e-book, how is one to know how long the book is? I confess that to get an idea of the length, I generally do some research and check out the number of pages of the print version. Or if I'm reading a lot, then my mind remembers that magic paper-to-device page conversion factor at my favorite font size. That gives me a general feel for the length of the corresponding "real" book in paper form. Usually the e-book has a lot more pages than the paper version, especially if I'm reading on my Treo phone.

But if I don't have that magic conversion factor in my head, or if I am trying to determine how long an e-book is on a device that is new to me, it's kind of a mystery. How do I describe the book length to someone else? Some of the e-books I bought seemed like they were the equivalent of ~300 pages to me. But after looking it up, I find I bought e-books that were only about the equivalent of a bit over 100 pages. I knew it was a really quick read, but wow. I have to admit that I felt a little cheated at first, because I didn't realize how short they were when I was purchasing them. (Actually, I would have bought them anyway - they were really good!)

Now, even if paper books go away (not likely for a long, long time), there will probably still be a place for an typeset version in some format like pdf. I've never heard anyone conjecture that, but it seems self-evident to me that typesetting properly done adds greatly to the reading experience. The nicely formatted e-books available at MobileRead are a good demonstration of the value of presentation. So not everything is likely to be entirely flowable, re-sizeable text.

But... what if there really is no fixed text size? (After all, who is really going to bother nicely typesetting the average fiction e-book in the future?) Then how will we describe e-book length?

I can't think of any other alternative besides word count, and that seems to incredibly unsatisfying and aesthetically crude. It reminds me too much of school days, I suppose. But if there is no fixed standard page number to compare against, what else can we do? I suppose we could agree on a certain common text size and page layout in electronic form and make that the "agreed upon" number of pages in a book. But that seems silly to me also.

This may ruffle some feathers, or you may have some thoughts that make me realize how silly I am, but as wonderful as e-books are, I think that the corresponding paper books are awfully nice, even for simple things like setting a standard for the number of pages.
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:11 PM   #2
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Hmm, doesn't bother me that much. If anything, I appreciate the lack of weight on books.

I started reading ebooks on a Palm device, and I've just watched the progress bar at the bottom of the screen. So I guess I'm happy with relative position rather than relative size. Same thing on my Sony, except it's page numbers rather than a progress bar.
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:12 PM   #3
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Interesting musings.

I think a good measure would be word length, in k (thousands). For example, a novella (by SFWoA standards) is between 7.5k and 17.5k words, novella between 17.5k and 40k, and novel greater than 40k. And anything less than 1k is a scribble.

Progress might be referenced (a la Kindle) as a percentage. So, p50 would be halfway through, regardless of length of the prose. p1 would be the first page (or very close to it--maybe p0 is the title page?) and p100 would be the end. You lose some precision wrt p-books that have more than 100 pages (and gain some for shorter works) unless you add a decimal. Of course, this is a "relative" measure, as opposed to an "absolute" page number, but only relative measures like this will survive reformatting/reflowing.

More musings...

Last edited by DrMoze; 08-31-2009 at 08:59 PM.
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:17 PM   #4
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With some books, not knowing the size of the book can be an advantage! The Outlander series starts big and gets bigger with each book. Reading the whole series electronically, I never knew that. I just knew I *loved* the story, so I kept buying them. I did like to know the relative position in each book, but never got the feeling that I was reading the huge books that I was. Then I looked at the print version on amazon and saw the page counts for each book ....

And I'm still so hooked on the storyline that I can't wait for the next book in a month or two!!
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:20 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DrMoze View Post
Interesting musings.

I think a good measure would be word length, in k (thousands). For example, a novella (by SFWoA standards) is between 7.5k and 17.5k words, novella between 17.5k and 40k, and novel greater than 40k. And anything less than 1k is a scribble.
Are there any reader devices that report on word count? That's a feature I'd kind of like to have but neither of my devices seem to have such a function. I think the combination of a word count and a percentage bar would yield up more precision than page numbers in a pbook.
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:28 PM   #6
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If you look on Fictionwise site, for example, the Multiformat ebooks show number of words and approx. reading time.
Didn't look on other sites...
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:30 PM   #7
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I used to think I had a little knowledge on kb and mb, but after a number of purchases I made which I tracked the pg numbers it turned out this isn't accurate method either. Some publishers do use novella, novels, plus novels using word counts but I'm not sure why they can't use a page number count at least to give an approximate size? I might think twice about a book with under 200 pages if it costs over $10, it would depend on the author and the type of book.
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:33 PM   #8
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I use MOBI mostly, so I get a pretty random Idea of the size of the book anyhow.

I read a short stoy and the reader told me it was over 1000 ez reader pages long...turned out to be like 120pages.....

Best thing about ebook readers, you get to carry a library is a 1.2gram case, so for me, doesn't matter, I just open the next book and dive in.

Though, have to say I would like to know the reality of the size of the book, just for interest.....
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:37 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sminarovich View Post
I used to think I had a little knowledge on kb and mb, but after a number of purchases I made which I tracked the pg numbers it turned out this isn't accurate method either. Some publishers do use novella, novels, plus novels using word counts but I'm not sure why they can't use a page number count at least to give an approximate size? I might think twice about a book with under 200 pages if it costs over $10, it would depend on the author and the type of book.
As the size of the font will change the number of the pages, it's impossible to do, unless a dynamic recalculation (as with Microsoft Reader).
Now you can always search for the paperback version on the net, and see the number of pages...
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:58 PM   #10
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I've found hat I never concern myself with the length of a book anymore. If anything, I might think about it in an abstract way, usually related to my impression that a story is being unfortunately drawn out, or rushing through to a quick finish. If I feel the story was properly told, not rushed or extended, however, I really don't care whether I just read 100 or 600 "pages" worth of text.

And yes, measuring by pages is inaccurate anyway... if you must measure, measure by word or character count. But, even as a writer, I don't really track the word counts in my own novels... I just write them, and when the story's finished, it's finished.
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:04 PM   #11
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I took some time to correlate things once upon a time. From memory:

MS .lit
min. file size, about 120 kb
short work, about 200 kb
long novel, about 400 kb

mobi prc
min. file size, v. small
long novel, about 300 kb

rtf
long novel, about 500 kb

Hope that helps,
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:04 PM   #12
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Word count!

But then, I am a computer science guy. So I like to measure things directly.

Number of pages only tells you the size of the book, not length. It is like measuring the age of your child by the number of shoes you have bought them in their life.
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:05 PM   #13
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On the Kndle DX each book is represented with a series of dots under each title, so it is easy to compare the relative lengths of different books. When reading a specific title you can see the percent read, and each chapter is marked on the bottom of the screen to let you know how far you need to go to get to the next chapter.

I like the way this all works, but like Bob Russell, I too would like to know how this translates to a typical printed page. I realize that each book would be different based on font size and formatting, but we could probably approximate a book size based on word count and maybe an estimate of 300 words per page.
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:19 PM   #14
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All my PDFs have a clear, definite, and readily discernible page numbers.

Short stories might be as little as 50 or a 100 pages, pulp novels tend to be around 200 - 300 pages. Longer/heavier/more involving fiction surpasses the 500 page count but probably not the 1000 page one.

Casanova's Memoirs are in the 4000 - 5000 page range. St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica is over 10,000 pages.

But I can empathise with how annoying it would be not to have such clear and consistent indication about a eBook's length/size.

- Ahi
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:21 PM   #15
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I prefer word count, too.
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