There is a Big Problem with Free eBook Samples

kindle reading on the underground

Book discovery has been a hotbed issue for the last two years as digital books become more prevalent in our society. Unlike real books, you cannot download the entire novel to read samples, instead an algorithm extrapolates the first ten or twenty pages and delivers them to your e-reader. The exact number depends on whether you are shopping with Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes and Noble.  One of the biggest problems right now with eBook samples is you only get less than a chapter to determine if you like the book, in some cases you only have a single page to read.

When you are shopping in your favorite bookstore, it is quite common to pick up the book, read the jacket and flip through it. It is quite easy to pull up a chair and read the entire chapter if you wanted to and if it was compelling enough, purchase it. Some people go to the store on their break and complete an entire book in a few days, some would say they are bucking the system, others participating in the culture. This is the way bookstores have always functioned.

When you are on the fence about buying an eBook, often the only thing you can do is download a free sample. One of the big problems with this approach is the number of pages included in the sample. If a book has a large table of contents, a forward, likely you won’t even get to read the first chapter.  I took a look at a title “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box,” by the Arbinger Institute. The entire first half of the sample chapter for this book is nothing but promotional testimonials — the kind of blurbs you’d see on the back cover of a paperback. Then follows the cover art and front matter. Finally, at the very end, you get to the actual content: barely what would fit on a single printed page, and just 4% of the total sample chapter file. It’s a brief introduction that indicates almost nothing of the substance and style of the book.

Barnes and Noble and Kobo also deliver samples to you and normally comprise of less than 10% of the book and most publishers actually have a say in how many  pages of a book can be available in a chapter. If you self-publish with Nook Press or Kobo Writing Life, there is a difference in how many sample pages are available for the reader, then your average mega title published by Penguin.

I have basically given up on downloading samples of any kind of eBook these days. I have been burned too many times downloading a sample for the purposes of reviewing a new Kindle e-Reader or a new Android tablet. Instead, I am usually forced to buy a book because its nearly impossible to get a few pages into the first chapter, before the sample ends. eBook samples need to eliminate the table of contents and all of the other superficialis data, and start directly at chapter one.

Michael Kozlowski (5214 Posts)

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about electronic readers and technology for the last four years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the Huffington Post, CNET and more. Michael frequently travels to international events such as IFA, Computex, CES, Book Expo and a myriad of others. If you have any questions about any of his articles, please send an email to

  • jellybooks

    Try samples at then 😉

    What do you get at Jellybooks?

    The first 10% by word count, so all that front matter of empty pages doesn’t count and the index (which is usually word light) is not heavily weighted.

    It depends on the book how much you get, but in a book with more than 10 chapters it almost always works out to at least the first chapter, sometimes the first 2-3 chapters, if it is a big book. Generally you get a good 215-20 minutes read and thus a real “taste for the book”

    If the book is more than 1,000 pages, then we cut the sample at 100 pages…

    and yes we agree that samples elsewhere can sometimes be a bit, well, wanting…

  • Albert

    Obviously if you want to sample a book, the size will be important, but if the purpose is to sample an ereader, even if you do not already have an account with books, you can surely choose a free book, no?

  • DebsSweet

    How can you get ‘burned’ by a free sample?

  • Jessica Strider

    Personally, when I’m looking to buy non-fiction, the table of contents is essential. I want to know what the book covers and then see a chapter to know how the author writes.