getting the information out to readers

Readers As Consumers: Research Before You Purchase

The other day an author friend told me one of my books was mentioned at the bottom of a review for another book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great review for me or the other author, however, there was one part of the review that really bothered me from a practical business POV. Both as a reader and an author. And no, this isn’t a rant about a poor review. This is more consumer oriented and I’m looking at this from an objective reader’s POV, not as a disgruntled author.

Evidently, the person who reviewed this book, and then mentioned my book, makes all his e-book purchases on one large retail web site. I’m not going to mention names of web sites, because I’ve seen this happen in several places and it wouldn’t be fair to single anyone out. And it’s not important who the reviewer was in this case because his review actually turned out to be a very enlightening. One of the comments the reviewer made about my book was that it was only a 30 minute read, but no reader could actually know it was this short unless they bought the book.

I’m not going to mention the book because I’m not here to promote anything right now. But it was one of those short stand alone e-books that has become a very popular format with a lot of authors, publishers, and readers these days. In other words, this was a short story, with a length of just over 5,000 words and a reading time of 15-21 minutes, and it was priced accordingly.

But it seems this reviewer was under the impression the book was longer, in spite of the price. And although I do believe that when someone reviews a book on a professional review site they should know all the information about the book, I can understand why he’d think this. On this particular retail web site where he bought the book, I didn’t notice a word count or an actual reading time. Under the product details, all I saw was a file size. And if a reader is anything like me, a file size means absolutely nothing. Speaking as a reader (and a computer idiot), I know reading time, I know word count, and I know page numbers. But when you get into file sizes and things like KB’s, I go blank. And because I buy most of my e-books on publisher web sites, I never noticed the ambiguity on this particular retail web site.

So I did a little research to see how other web sites display the product details with the e-books they sell. And I found a huge difference. For example, allromanceebooks.com lists a word count very clearly, which for me is the best indicator. And fictionwise.com mentions actual reading time, and then goes on to categorize books as S (short), M (medium), and L (long). No problem there; a huge round of applause for ARe and Fictionwise. There are several others that give these details as well, and most publisher web sites make product details just as clear.

I wrote a short blog post about this earlier in the week, and since then I’ve had several authors contact me and tell me they’ve been experiencing similar situations regarding product details and book lengths (we do take this seriously). Readers have left disgruntled comments in customer reviews of e-books because they felt as though they’ve been cheated. They thought they were buying a full-length book and they wound up with a short story stand alone instead. And from what I’ve seen, I can’t blame the reader if they only shop for e-books on a web site that doesn’t make the details clear. For many readers, remaining with one web site makes them feel safe and comfortable. And they tend to trust larger retail web sites more than smaller sites.

The only solution I see is to try to get the information out there as much as possible so readers know exactly what they are purchasing when they buy an e-book. Frankly, I may even start writing book lengths into the cover copy of my short story stand alones from now on. If web sites don’t want to give out all the product details to idiots like me who don’t know file sizes, I’ll do it myself in my cover copy. This way there isn’t any confusion and no one can say they didn’t know all the facts before they made a purchase. And I also think it’s important to get the word out to readers and let them know that if they have any questions about buying a book, there are places like ARe and Fictionwise where they can get all the information they need. And it only takes minutes to do this. But they have to know, especially the readers who are just getting into e-books and e-readers.

As an author, it really does bother me when a reader spends their hard earned money on a book and winds up disappointed in the length of the book. Or if they feel cheated because they feel they didn’t get enough information before they made the purchase. I’ve owned two small businesses and my first goal with each business was always catering to the consumer. I always felt an obligation to treat the consumer well and give them the best service possible, and as an author I feel this same obligation now.

So please take the time to let your readers know what they are buying. And don’t assume they know anything. And readers, please take the time to research what you are buying. I personally think it’s a great idea to have an accessable e-mail address so readers can actually contact the author with any questions they might have about a book. I post my e-mail on my blog, and you’d be amazed at how many readers will, in fact, ask me questions about a particular book before they make a purchase. One even wanted to know the ending of a book, and I told her. She thanked me, and said she wasn’t interested. Which was fine with me. Though sometimes you might even lose the sale of a book because the reader winds up not interested after you’ve answered their questions, I do think the reader will appreciate it and consider buying your next book or story instead.