Skip to main content

What Are Low Content Books?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

what-are-low-content-books

Previously, I defined low content print books as those that aren’t traditional text-based content. I lumped coloring books, workbooks, puzzle and crossword puzzle books, and journals in that grouping. But in 2022, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) redefined the category.

Here’s what low content books are now.

The New Definition of Low Content Books

When I published my Looking Questions journal in 2013 and my 101 Business Writing Prompts workbook in 2015, I fretted that KDP might reject my books because they didn’t have enough content, even though they both had text content discussing the topic, providing instructions, and more. But they both passed and I’m still selling them. In fact, to date, my 101 Business Writing Prompts is my third top selling book of all my books on Amazon.

As the self publishing industry matured, a lot of authorpreneurs cashed in, or tried to cash in, on publishing “journals” on KDP that were more like blank page notebooks. Just pages with lines (or not) and maybe a graphic or other visual elements to dress them up a bit. This is what I call “no content.” Nothing wrong with no content books. But should they be allowed to be published on KDP? And where do they belong on Amazon?

In mid-May 2022, Amazon and KDP started defining self published journals, notebooks, and planners as “low content.” Puzzle books, coloring books, and workbooks will continue to be categorized as regular books. What’s the key difference? Repetitive content. A journal, planner, or notebook would generally have nearly identical content on most, if not all, pages. Or they might even have blank pages. Books such as coloring books and workbooks do not have repeating content.

Will KDP take down existing books that would now be defined as low content? That’s unknown, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens. Too many listings for low content books with low sales could be putting a drain on the system, and providing a poor customer experience. I even saw some low content book listings where the titles were stuffed with keywords and minor book details. One of the book titles was almost a paragraph in length.

The Low Content Category Question

Going forward, when you publish a low content book, you must check the Low Content box when you publish it on KDP. If you don’t, your book manuscript will be rejected. What this means is that KDP is now going to be scrutinizing your uploaded manuscripts for low content markers such as repetitive elements and low volume of genuine content.

It is unclear from KDP’s new support documentation on low content books as to what will be done with existing low content books. What’s also currently unclear is what product category will be used for these self published journals if they are not classified as books. Will they be lumped into the larger group of blank journal and notebook product listings? That’s a completely different product category than books, and a competitive one, too.

When customers shop for journals on Amazon, they’ll likely type in “journals” in the search bar. I would safely guess that no customer will ever type in “low content” in the Amazon search bar. With the categorization in flux, it means that these publishers will need to pour more resources into marketing, promotions, and advertising on Amazon or elsewhere.

No ISBN or Your ISBN?

In the past, KDP would provide a free ISBN (International Standard Book Number) to all print books, even low content ones. With the new low content definition, the ISBN situation for KDP has changed.

Low content books will not have an ISBN number when you publish them on KDP unless you provide your own ISBN. KDP will no longer provide free ISBN numbers for low content books. However, all products on Amazon are assigned an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) number. A retail type barcode for Amazon’s use will be added to your low content book cover self published on KDP, unless you provide your own ISBN number.

Though I’m sure Amazon probably has a special arrangement with Bowker, if they paid the posted retail price for ISBNs, they’d currently pay $1,500 for a package of 1,000 ISBN numbers. And that’s just for the numbers, not including ISBN barcodes. Let’s say a single self publisher uploads hundreds of titles per month, which might not be unusual. That could cost Amazon hundreds of dollars per month for each self publisher’s uploads. And if there are scant sales for each title, it’s a loss for Amazon. So you can see why they want to get this situation under control.

If you absolutely want to have an ISBN assigned to your low content book, you’ll have to buy it from Bowker in the United States, or the ISBN agency for your home country. That could cost you a chunk of cash. You’re not buying ISBNs in volume like Amazon might. As I am posting this, the cost for a single ISBN is $125, a package of 10 is $295, and 100 are $575. Do the math. It’s obvious Amazon did.

Actually, I don’t think this no-ISBN issue will be much of a problem for most low content publishers. It’s on Amazon for print on demand, and that’s all they care.

On a related note, if you don’t provide your own ISBN number for your low content book, it will not be available for Expanded Distribution to libraries, schools, and bookstores. This makes sense for libraries and schools who wouldn’t purchase blank books. However, I think there may be some crying and moaning about not being available to bookstores… like they even had chance of being sold there anyway.

No Look Inside Preview for Low Content Books on Amazon

Another change for the new low content book category is that there will be no Look Inside preview available for them. Customers would see the same repetitive page over and over again. So no loss for the customer.

A+ Content would be a way to display a repetitive page design. It’s unclear if there will be any restrictions on A+ Content for low content books now or in the future. Check KDP support documentation for updates on this situation.

KDP Was Never Ideal for Journals and Blank Books

The perfect bound books that can be produced by print on demand on KDP are not ideal for journals and blank notebooks. They do not lay flat which doesn’t provide a good user experience. As I found with my 101 Business Writing Prompts workbook, increasing the book’s trim size can help a write-in book lay flatter, though not perfectly flat.

Even the new KDP hardcover editions aren’t the answer. Unlike traditional hardcover case binding that has signatures that are stitched together to create the book block, the KDP hardcovers appear to be more like perfect bound with a hard cover attached. So the KDP hardcovers don’t lay flat either.

Spiral bindings, which KDP does not currently offer, are an ideal format for user experience with write-in journals and blank books. But it is an expensive format, even for self publishing platforms that offer spiral coil bound printed books (Lulu is an example). That means lower royalties and profits.

Because producing a lay flat journal or blank book is so expensive, many low content publishers ignored the user experience and went with KDP print on demand. You have to wonder if the poor user experience also factored into Amazon and KDP’s decision to make these policy changes.

A Good Move for Amazon and Their Customers

I have to admit that I’m surprised it took Amazon this long to do this. I’ve been seeing the low and no content “get rich quick” publishing schemes for a while. I can’t imagine Amazon’s advanced algorithms and AI weren’t able to detect these books’ lack of content during the review process. This is a good move for Amazon in terms of their costs and helps them the best possible experience for customers.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Heidi Thorne

Comments

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 24, 2020:

Adrienne, optical illusion books (I know exactly what those are!) definitely qualify for low content books. I'm dizzy just thinking about them. ;)

Thanks for stopping by and have a terrific day!

Adrienne Farricelli on June 23, 2020:

This was an interesting read. I never heard about low content books before. Thanks for posting the examples as they helped me grasp the concept. My mom has an interesting book of optical illusion drawings so I guess that would qualify as a low content book.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 18, 2020:

Peggy, again, thank you for sharing my work with your author friends! I wish your friend the best in this important project. Have a beautiful weekend!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 13, 2020:

Hi Heidi,

I will forward this to her. I have sent other posts of yours to her as well. She is hoping to share her wisdom of teaching and counseling children and their families and put it to good use by authoring children's books. She is smart and caring, and I know that she will ultimately succeed in her efforts.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 06, 2020:

Well, Peggy, I wouldn't consider children's books as "low content," even though they are low words. Low content is really more of the journal or workbook type of book.

But I will say that in spite of their low words, children's books are very difficult to write and produce! The illustration thing, of course, which is expensive. And usually I recommend that authors use an editor who specializes in children's books to review the book for reading level, content appropriateness, etc. I dedicated a complete hub to children's books a couple years ago. So if your friend is interested, tell them to check it out.

Again, thank you, and be well!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 04, 2020:

Hi Heidi,

I guess children's books would count as low content books? My neighbor, who is a retired assistant principal, is researching writing children's books. They have limited word content and many illustrations from what she is learning.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 12, 2019:

Hi Marlene! Glad you found this helpful and that you're encouraged to give doing a journal a try. Let us know how it goes and good luck with your journal project!

Marlene Bertrand from USA on November 12, 2019:

I am fascinated by the concept of the low content book. I never knew coloring books and such were called that, but I learned a lot here and I am now encouraged to finish creating and publishing an inspirational journal that I put away because I thought it might be a waste of time to try to try to publish it. Thank you for your excellent tips.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 09, 2019:

Lawrence, I'm in no hurry to attempt coloring books either! :) But I am fascinated by the prospect of doing other types of books that aren't the standard text on a page.

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing! Cheers!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 07, 2019:

Heidi

I watched a podcast recently where the people at SPF were interviewing an artist who creates adult colouring books it was very enlightening and no, I'm not about to try it.

Great material here.

Lawrence

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 08, 2019:

Hi Linda! Crosswords are a great student engagement tool. I'm sure you could come up with some amazing ones based on all the science topics you cover. If you didn't before, there are some online puzzle generators that can help make it easier. Just check the terms to make sure you can republish what you create. Keep us posted on any low content books you publish! Thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful weekend!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 07, 2019:

Thanks for sharing the interesting article and your advice, Heidi. In the past, I have created some original crosswords for my students. You've got me thinking about new possibilities.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 05, 2019:

Bill, I know you've dabbled in the coloring book arena. I haven't worked up the ambition to do one yet. And I am horrible at drawing. So there you go. But at some point, I might dive into trying the crossword thing. You'll know when I do.

The weather here in Chicago has been beautiful lately, too. Here's to a spectacular September for all of us!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 05, 2019:

Liz, agreed, the coloring book trend has cooled a bit. Still has some life in it if the material focuses on a particular market segment. And, yes, doing a crossword puzzle is challenging! There are crossword puzzle creation tools online. But even then, you still have to create the words and clues. That's quite a project! Thanks for sharing your experience across the pond!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 05, 2019:

Flourish, while the coloring book craze has cooled down a bit, they are still entertaining and fun books to use and create. Glad you appreciate. Thanks for sharing your experience with them!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 05, 2019:

Mary, workbooks can be very valuable publications. If you do decide to dive in and try doing one, I'd love to hear about your experience. Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your publishing adventures!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 05, 2019:

Yes to everything you said. I don't see another one in me, but never say never, right?

Wishing you a brilliant September. It is absolutely perfect here today, but rain is rapidly approaching.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 05, 2019:

This is an interesting segment of the publishing market. Coloring books for adults were big in the UK a few years ago. I'm guessing that this is an area that sounds easier than it is. It takes a particular talent to create crosswords.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 05, 2019:

There are really funny adult coloring books out there with a lot of sales on Amazon. I’ve ordered them as gifts but would never do them myself although I got a huge kick out of looking through them before gifting. Someone put a lot of effort into the artwork and the snarky humor.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 05, 2019:

Good points as usual. A friend was telling me to do some workbooks but I just have not gotten into it so I'm grateful for this article.