When I first began reading science-fiction, a novel was perhaps 60,000 words and an anthology might run to ten stories. No more, and bloat-ification rules the shelves. Macleans magazine has a new blurticle on the topic today, musing on why “Books just keep getting longer”…
“the ever-expanding girth of Stephen King’s recent oeuvre has earned him the derisive title of ‘King Bloat’ within the publishing industry.”
It makes one wonder how much of a market there may be for heavily abridged versions, if authors will stand for that. Of course, some audiobooks do offer abridged versions, with the author’s permission. And much non-fiction of the ‘pop best-seller’ variety (Malcolm Gladwell et al) can be heavily abridged with little loss, and services such as Blinkist and others already offer impartial short summaries (impartial compared to the summary on Wikipedia, which has to be assumed to be slanted and spun and snipped for any even a slightly politically-relevant book). So far as I know, the Blink summaries are written by humans and they can be read in 15 or 20 minutes. Marry that with three long reviews found online, and you’ll have a fairly good grasp of the book without having to spend a day reading it.
The risk will come in A.I. powered auto-abridgement, perhaps in tandem with ‘reader attention data’ from devices (which indicate the parts that ‘most people’ skip). We already have news-article summation tools, though I find they’re rarely better than a trained eye skimming down an article.
Already annoyingly automatic is the ‘book shortening’ found on the Kindle, in which Amazon will assume you don’t want to savour the art and typography of the front-cover, the introductory matter and Contents page, before starting a downloaded ebook. Amazon assumes you must immediately leap to the first word of the main body and start reading. This ‘leap’ is often very annoying, and I can’t see any setting in the Kindle dashboard which states: “Always start my ebook at the front cover”.
Of course, that assumes the front cover is worth seeing. In 95% of self-published ebooks, it’s ugly as hell. Apparently most ebook authors don’t want to spend $30 at Fiverr on buying services from a cover designer who knows about typography and who can source good free public-domain artwork. Too many book covers from establishment publishers are also mediocre.
Then, at the end of the book, I find that the Kindle ereader will again try to truncate the book. Too often it will want to whisk the reader away to engage with social media (Amazon Reviews, GoodReads etc), once the last word of the main body text is reached. Whereas there may well be endnotes of other matter in the book that are skipped by leaving at that point. For instance, that happened recently with an Arthur C. Clarke non-fiction book I’d purchased from the Kindle Store. If I hadn’t continued paging on, regardless, then I would thus have missed about 12 pages of endotes to the book. Some of them quite long. The same is true of the Kindle wanting to skip an index or bibliography. If I purchased a book, then I want to at least know about everything that’s potentially available to me in the book.