The eBook industry has recently kept The Wall Street Journal in a state of openmouthed amazement. When Internet billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban published an eBook without the help of a traditional publisher, the Journal positively salivated over the potential revenue the social-media savvy Cuban could realize. And on Black Friday 2011, it reported, sold more than four times the number of Kindle e-readers that it had on the same day of 2010. There's no danger that the Kindle will turn into a Betamax.

We, too, have noticed that the readership for eBooks is expanding enormously and that the publishing economics can be very different from those of traditional books. One growth area is the "natural length" eBook: something longer than a longish magazine article, yet significantly shorter than the typical print book. Sometimes it is the full version of a magazine article, with all the good bits restored that editors trim out because of space constraints. Sometimes it is several articles, published at various times, brought together for greater effect. The format allows you, the reader, to go deeper and learn more than you could from a magazine article, without committing the time or money demanded by a full-length book.

Shorter books like these just don't make sense in traditional publishing. They need to be bulked up to a certain size—often padded with chapters that don't contribute much—just to make the economics of printing, shipping, distribution, and retail sales work.

With eBook publishing, that has changed. A "natural length" book can be inexpensively produced and inexpensively priced, without regard for costs of printing, paper, and shipping.

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