Every so often Amazon decides to crack down on violations of some rule in its voluminous ToS or Kindle publishing guidelines, or even just because readers are complaining.
In the past Amazon has gotten serious about on keyword stuffing in titles; public domain, GPL-licensed, and other works found freely available on the web; and now David Gaughran tells us that Amazon is getting serious about the location of the table of contents in Kindle ebooks.
Apparently the logical location, putting the TOC at the end of the ebook, is not the Amazon-approved location:
We’ll get to what might be the root cause of this crackdown in a moment, but Amazon is claiming that having a TOC in the end-matter instead of the front-matter is a breach of the (ever-changing, 100+ pages) Kindle Publishing Guidelines (PDF). Amazon says that rear TOCs result in a poor reader experience, and it has very suddenly decided to clamp down heavily on this practice, without notifying the community-at-large, even though moving extraneous front-matter to the end of the text has been fairly standard practice for years.
Some individual authors are receiving Quality Notices warning them that their title will be removed from sale unless the TOC is moved to the front. Normally these notices – which appear to be generated by bots – give us just five days to comply. Other writers are having their buy buttons removed without receiving these notices.
To give you an idea of how disruptive this can be, read the story of author Walter Jon Williams – who had his Nebula-nominated SF novel Metropolitan removed from saleduring a BookBub promotion. Can you imagine?
His buy button was eventually restored around a week later, but Amazon wasn’t finished. After he moved his TOC to the front of the book and uploaded the new version, Amazon then sent an email to all previous purchasers of the book saying that the author had now corrected serious formatting and editorial issues. Walter Jon Williams said that there were no such issues with this book – which has been on sale in one form or another since 2005 when it was originally published by HarperCollins – and the sole change he made was to move the TOC, as requested.
I can’t confirm that Amazon is cracking down, but I can tell you that section 5.1 of the publishing guidelines does recommend that you put the TOC at the beginning of the book.
Amazon has some sound technical reasons for that recommendation, but a lot of authors and publishers have tended to ignore those technical reasons in favor of good design principles. A ToC is largely redundant in fiction, so there’s no need to waste a reader’s time by making them page through it at the beginning of an ebook.
That’s how Baen Books has been formatting their ebooks since before I started buying them over a decade ago, and it makes as much sense now as it did then.
In fact, putting the TOC in the back makes more sense in 2015 than it did in 2005. Now Kindle ebooks have an external TOC which arguably makes the internal one redundant, so one could argue that you don’t need to put a TOC in the ebook any more.
But apparently Amazon thinks it’s still important – so much so that they’re threatening authors over the matter.
image by Jason Hargrove