How non-fiction best-selling books have got shorter and shorter

Non-fiction best-selling books have been getting shorter over the past over the past seven years, according to a new survey.

In 2011, the average length of a best-selling non-fiction book was 467 pages but that has dropped to 273 pages in 2017 — a fall of 42%.

The research from Book in a Box shows the annual trends:

  • In 2011 the average length of a non-fiction best-seller was 467 pages.
  • In 2012, that average fell to 410.
  • In 2013, it fell further to 367.
  • In 2014, it recovered slightly to 382 on the back of three books of 600-plus pages.
  • In 2015, the drop resumed as the average fell to 345.
  • In 2016, the drop lessened, falling only to 342.
  • In 2017, the downward trend has continued, with an average book length of 273 pages.

The survey tracks titles which hit the No 1 spot on the New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller List.

BIAB’s findings include:

  • Over 64% of the #1 bestsellers since the list began in 2000 have fallen in the 200-400-page range.
  • In recent years (2015-2017), the trend has become even more pronounced, with over 50% of No 1 bestsellers falling into the narrower 250-350-page range:
  • The 450-plus-page length that held the average book length seven years ago, now makes up just 13% of the books in the top spot.
  • The shortest book to hit the No 1 spot was Harry Frankfurt’s 80-page On Bullshit.
  • The longest book to hit the No 1 spot was Robert Caro’s 1,232-page Master of the Senate.

It’s interesting to note that while non-fiction books are getting shorter, novels seem to be getting longer. A survey for Flipsnack at the end of 2015 looked at 2,515 fiction books from the New York Times Best Sellers and Notable Books lists over the previous 15 years. It found that the average number of pages had increased from an average of 320 pages in 1999 to 407 pages in 2014.

You can find the full survey on non-fiction best-sellers at Book in a Box.