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Amazon Now Freaking Out Over TOC Location in Kindle eBooks?

4737243938_35b5f67372_bEvery 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

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Eric March 11, 2016 um 12:16 pm

One possible reason to have the TOC in front is the farthest read position some readers track. I had an old reader which would update my FRP to the end of the book if I jumped to the TOC. That was very annoying. Moving TOC to the front will eliminate that, if any current readers still do that.

JSWolf March 11, 2016 um 12:24 pm

It could be a double-standard. I have seen a few eBooks recently with the HTML ToC at the back. One I just looked at using look inside has the smaller ToC at the front and the normal ToC is not to be found because it’s at the back. So Amazon is allowing the publishers to get away with the ToC at the back and the self-published authors are not allowed.

Another double standard is embedded fonts. Amazon again allows the publishers to get away with it and even allows them to embed Charis SL. The self-published authors have their embedded font stripped (unless you know one of the tricks).

SteveHut March 11, 2016 um 12:50 pm

The reason for this crackdown is probably to help stop scammers from gaming Kindle Unlimited pages read tracking. If the TOC is at the end of a book and someone wants to use it they can jump to it via the NCX link or perhaps a link in the front matter which links to the end TOC. Bing…now the Kindle reports progress read is to the end of the book and the publsher gets credit for all the pages as being read??
Apparently similar 'cheating' tactics in scammer KU titles are being reported by authors at Kboards. It is possible that Amazon’s new KU2.0 page tracking for compensation is as simplistic as what is the great page number viewed, whicjh is then reported back. They may have to change it if that is so to a more robust what pages have actually been read sequentially or something like "IS this page number > than any other tracked…IF yes, were the five pages before it also tracked too…ELSE ignore new highest page number."

Nate Hoffelder March 11, 2016 um 1:07 pm

Maybe, but there’s a good chance this was sparked by a handful of complaints. Amazon has been known to go overboard before.

cksyme March 11, 2016 um 1:21 pm

Per David Gaughran’s blog post this morning, I see that Amazon is trying to crackdown on people scamming the KU system by sending people to the end of the book before they read the book. As long as this loophole exists in their page tracking system, they will continue to crackdown. And as with every crackdown there will be a trickle down effect, or maybe roll out is a better concept. I know one thing, until we get clarity I won’t be putting any ToC in the back of my books.

Nate Hoffelder March 11, 2016 um 5:48 pm

I am not convinced that is related.

This is beginning to sound more and more like a handful of authors were swatted down after readers complain. There’s no widespread enforcement.

Frank March 11, 2016 um 2:20 pm

I think the Table of Content page is important for the reading experience, so I know how many chapters and any names even when reading Fiction.

The Kindle has a built-in ToC as well, but I like my ebooks to look like real books, that fiction books have always had a TOC at the start.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) March 11, 2016 um 2:24 pm

GAH. I put mine at the back because I write fiction and putting it there allows for a larger sample to be downloaded…grumble. I didn’t initially put one in at all because it’s fiction…

Robert Nagle March 11, 2016 um 2:58 pm

It’s probably unnecessary to point out these things, but Amazon requires a logical TOC which must be manually created — in addition to the TOC generated by the .ncx file or the nav element (in epub 3). The other platforms don’t require a logical TOC because it is redundant. (IN fact, I have left TOC’s out for epubs on non-Kindle platforms in the past).

Also, print books in other decades (and other countries) would often have the TOC at the end; it’s just a convention.

Steve H March 11, 2016 um 4:07 pm

Actually I think it improves the online book buying process. With Amazon’s "Look Inside" feature on most ebook/print titles you can look at the table of contents to see the first 10-20ish pages. This is especially useful for non=fiction. For things like cookbooks you can even see all the recipes included in well laid out TOCs. For general non-fiction you can check the Chapter titles to see if the book truly is what you may be looking for.
I’ve never complained, but I like that they are doing it…a major one time pain for some authors that may improve sales in the long run(especially non-fiction).

Mary March 12, 2016 um 8:47 am

I heartily agree that the TOC should be in the front. I buy a lot of Kindle cookbooks, and it is essential to know what is contained in the book when getting a sample. Actually, I do not remember seeing a print book, fiction or non-fiction, with the TOC at the end. Index at the end, yes, but not the TOC. It is unfortunate that with some books, it shortens the amount of actual text in the sample but is worth the trade-off.

carmen webster buxton March 12, 2016 um 2:10 am

Since Amazon sets a fixed percentage of the book for the "download a free sample" function, a lot of ebook designers move things like "other books by this author," "glossary of terms," and "a note from the author" to the end. Otherwise, the sample can fail to give enough of the story.

Steve Vernon March 12, 2016 um 7:38 am

In my opinion the gaming of the KU system is EXACTLY why Amazon has to crack down like this. Can’t blame them – but it is a pain in the neck for folks who have placed their TOC in the back just to save on flip-time and excerpt space.

carmen webster buxton March 14, 2016 um 2:22 pm

I didn’t put a ToC in my print version, because there are no chapter titles, only chapter numbers. I did a quick check of my book shelves, and I could not find a novel with a TOC and no chapter titles.

On the KU thing, I tried an experiment with my Kindle Voyage. I used the Go to menu to jump forward several chapters, then went back to where I had been. When I used the Sync to Furthest Page Read function, it turned on WIFI, and then took me to the original location, NOT to the farthest page I had looked at. I think it only records how far you’ve gone in a book at the point in time that you have the wireless on. So I don’t see how the people with TOoC at the end could get more money for it.

FSkornia March 14, 2016 um 2:32 pm

Maybe the solution to offer a longer excerpt/sample is for Kindle to use something like a tag around TOC, dedication, foreword, etc. that could be automatically excised from a sample/excerpt. This way an author or ebook creator can choose exactly what parts of the front matter show up in a sample, but then have it all show up in the full copy.

FSkornia March 14, 2016 um 2:33 pm

Doh! I made the mistake of actually enclosing text in brackets when talking about the tag, I meant the first line to say, "… Kindle to use something like a frontmatter tag…"

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