Traditionally, a book needed to be at least two hundred pages long. That restriction was entirely a consequence of the physics of bookmaking: a slimmer book would fail to stand out on the shelf, its spine too thin to be noticed among its neighbors.
But the digital bookshelf has removed that restriction: a slim book can garner as much or more attention as a long one. A book is no longer evaluated in the hand, but rather via the screen, where its size is invisible. And a growing preference for short form has made books of two or three hundred pages seem long by comparison.
Amazon has astutely identified this new market and made plans to sell to it; but where they go wrong is in the pricing. They assume that a shorter book should necessarily be cheaper. But when did we start pricing books according to page count? Why should a book that saves you time cost less?
Writing short requires focus. Instead of making three arguments, make one really good one; rather than sharing a handful of anecdotes, share the most memorable one. Most good writers know that writing short means first writing long, then identifying the weak areas and ruthlessly cutting them; after which the shards that remain must be carefully pieced back together, and (often) the cutting repeated. Too many people stop after merely writing long, and so the work never earns the clarity this process creates.
Don’t get me wrong: I love long form writing, and I know I’m not alone. But many a book has been forced to fill the requisite two hundred pages when it would have been better off at half or even a quarter of that length. (Michael Pollan’s Unhappy Meals made for a fabulous essay, but stretching it to fit the book form did little to improve it.) The precision that is evident in the short form is often lost when the text grows longer, and that precision makes a short text more valuable, not less.
Moreover, I believe our growing preference towards short form is not only the result of our famously declining attention spans, but also of our increasing desire to read: the longer the reading list, the more impatient I am with writing that doesn’t get to the point. And when good writing is in abundance, I only want to read the very best of it. If you care about your craft, then write me a short letter—I’ll pay more for it.