Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An Observation on Marketing

Trivial observation of the day:

I've finally gotten around to reading Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series. At the time I first ordered the books, there were only three, so I ordered the fourth and got it today.

I would like to mention that I don't measure the font size of every book I read. But when I've just finished reading three books printed in a relatively small font on paper thin enough to make 500 pages a not-exceedingly-thick book, only to open the fourth book and feel like I've accidentally gotten the large print edition, I notice. So, I did a quick page feel, then a page count. Surprise of surprises, the new book, despite being slightly thicker than its companions, runs about 300 pages. That's 200 pages shorter. And whereas the first three clocked around 450 words a page, this one hit closer to 300. Net result? Despite being the same size, Book 4 is about 75,000 words shorter.

I should emphasize that this is not a complaint, merely an observation on the mysteries of book marketing. Presumably someone who has purchased the fourth book wouldn't be doing so unless they had also enjoyed the first three. So what does a publisher do when the fourth book turns out to be something less than 70% the length of the others, and they don't want readers immediately saying "Gosh, it's not nearly as long as the others"? They make it look as long as the others.

It's not even as if this is news. At some point in the last couple of decades book publishers realized that thick books sell better, and so books became thicker. Anyone who's wrestled a Neal Stephenson book into bed knows that sometimes this is achieved through sheer word count. But anyone who's had the chance to compare two printings of the same Nero Wolfe novel published forty years apart can see that this is also achieved through thicker paper and bigger fonts (the refuge of college freshman everywhere).

Again, this is not a criticism of the writing, the book or the author. I have so far enjoyed the series, and in fact I'm looking forward to seeing what the author does with a tighter book (which, really, was one of the few quibbles I had about her in the first place). This is just me marveling at a very simple marketing tool that, had I not just finished reading the previous books, I might never have noticed. Well, until I read them all through again. :)



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