When I recently learned of Amazon's new plan to pay some authors for each page that a Kindle user reads, I remembered an editor who looked at my one of my book proposals and said something along the lines of, “It feels like you've only got 20,000 words of material. You need at least 80,000 words for a book. Can you pad it?"
This was when books were printed on paper and sold in stores. My editor explained that readers wanted to feel like they got some heft, both physical and intellectual, for their money, and no one wanted a scrawny featherweight of book. Big thoughts were heavy and thick tomes telegraphed just how much work went into writing a book—and reading it. I'm slightly embarrassed to report that one of my early books included a fat appendix just so its thickness would stand out on the shelf.
Tablets, such as the Kindle, have started to change that system. Not only did they make it possible to read 50 Shades of Grey on the subway with no one the wiser, but the same is true of reading something thick and important, such as War and Peace.
Soon, the maker of the Kindle is going to flip the formula used for reimbursing some of the authors who depend on it for sales. Instead of paying these authors by the book, Amazon will soon start paying authors based on how many pages are read—not how many pages are downloaded, but how many pages are displayed on the screen long enough to be parsed. So much for the old publishing-industry cliche that it doesn't matter how many people read your book, only how many buy it.