Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Myth is Wrong; People Read More Now

People are reading more now than they did years ago.

Now authors, publishers, and booksellers will probably tell you that isn't true. No one reads anymore, they say. But, wait, hear me out, it's true. These days people read articles, manuals, texts, message boards, emails, blogs, hilarious Twitter posts, lists, Facebook statuses (stati?), signs and books. People can understand what they're saying in each. Internet language is different than short hand, is different than text speak, is different than a sentence in books.

Think about that. It's almost as if people who read now can read several different languages and process most of it. But people don't read anymore.

I have friends who never read when they were kids reading a ton now. When you go to the beach, on a bus, or on a vacation, there are people reading everywhere.

But people don't read anymore.

No, the problem isn't people reading. The problem is people read slower, and therefore don't buy as many books.

When I was in college, I didn't have cable TV. I didn't have video games for the first two years I was in college either. I had studying, I had parties, I had work, and I had crime fiction novels. I used to read two to three books a week.

Now, I'm lucky if I read a book every two weeks.

Consider this, it used to be authors had to compete with TV. Now they have to compete with the internet, TV, video games, and cell phones. People have less time to read. And they want to read what they enjoy.

That's a very small window.

So, what can we--as authors--do? Write better books, of course. You have to connect with your audience. Stephanie Myer, Stieg Larsson, JK Rowling, and Nicholas Sparks all were able to tap a nerve in a large audience. They connected. They were able to get their audience to forget about all the other stuff, and just read their books. Even for a little while.

At the same time, authors, you need to write what you want to write. Don't try to hit the market, because you don't what the market is going to be. Vampires and Zombies are hot now. In a year, who knows, maybe ketchup and mustard romances will be all the rage. Write what you know, and write what you enjoy.

And what can we--as readers--do? Read a book you enjoy? Tell someone about it. Suggest it. Lend it to another person to read, especially if the author has a backlist. Buy books, and give books as gifts. People will read, and they usually trust a friend's suggestion.

And what can publishers do? This is tricky. Clearly everyone wants to publish the next Larsson, the next Rowling. You could shoot for that, true. But you could also go the cable TV route, and consider that more and more entertainment is becoming a niche world. There's so much out there that there isn't going to be a HUGE audience for much of anything. Publish the books you like, and promote them to the right audience. Advertise in those niche magazines. Got a horror series? Advertise during THE WALKING DEAD comics. Don't be afraid to publish small books. If they're good, they'll find an audience. And who knows? Maybe one of those books you think will be small will turn out to be huge. Word of mouth goes a long way.

I really believe the world is smarter now than it was fifty years ago. I also think people are afraid of change. Do people read less now? No, they read more.

They just divide their reading up into many different mediums.

Publishing needs to be the medium that grabs their attention. Book is still our most traditional form of entertainment.


David Cranmer said...

Very well put, Dave.

Dana King said...

Your advice to publishers is dead on. The only traditional network sho I watch anymore is DETROIT 1-8-7, and that's hanging by a thread with me. On the other hand, JUSTIFIED and TERRIERS (both on FX)were DVRed and watched without fail at the first opportunity. Make peace with the fact that a good book/show will not appeal to everyone; increasing the demographic appeal often dilutes the content. Focus on what you have that's good, and people will find it.

Bryon Quertermous said...

I will be so happy when this myth of a decline in reading finally dies. I agree with you, not only are people reading all of the stuff you mentioned, they're reading books too. Lots of them. Readers now though are more sophisticated and expect more. I mean even the crap at the top of the bestseller list today is better than the crap of 50 years ago. Look no further than e-books to see that people are still reading. I don't think the problem with publishing is that nobody reads, I think books are too damned expensive and distributed piss poorly.

Well done Dave.

Dana King said...

"books are too damned expensive and distributed piss poorly."


Sarah Shaber said...

Good post--I think you're absolutely right!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I watch three network shows: THE OFFICE, THE GOOD WIFE, MODERN FAMILY. That's it.
However, the students beginning college at our 35,000 student university in Detroit have never been so ill-prepared. It breaks my heart. Maybe they read but it isn't the right stuff.

C. N. Nevets said...

I, for one, was much more inclined to read books when I could actually afford to buy them.