I hear it all the time: “People don’t read books anymore.” And yet, it seems like there are more self-proclaimed avid readers out there than at any time during my life that I can recall.
Are they actually reading? I don’t know. I barely read, myself. When I do, I really have to focus in order to avoid getting sidetracked.
It’s our attention spans. They’ve gotten so short that a two-minute video is considered an excessive expenditure of time. People don’t listen to whole songs. It’s just “skip skip skip skip skip, oh, I like this part, skip skip skip skip.”
I guess the only thing people are able to sit and pay attention to is visual media. And I have a hard time with that.
I suppose for many people, a passive entertainment experience has become unappealing. I get it. That’s my problem, but that’s mostly due to video games and I don’t play video games unless they’re retro ones that I can play and put down. I don’t like to invest a lot of time in playing games. I get no fulfillment from it. Some people do, and that’s great. The creators of those games deserve their success.
Myself, though, I’d rather write than do anything else. It’s often easier for me to write a book than it is to read one, these days. That wasn’t always so, and I could stand to balance the two a little better. I have to write, though. Even if it’s just a blog post like this. I spend about four to five hours a day doing it. I generally only watch TV on the weekends when I’ve got extra time to burn after I feel I’ve achieved my writing goals.
And what are those? I couldn’t really say. I stop writing when I feel satisfied that I’ve written something substantial. I don’t do word counts. I’m not knocking it, but it’s not for me. It doesn’t mean anything to me. If I craft even just a paragraph that I really like, I don’t get that nagging feeling of incompletion shadowing me the rest of the day. I hate that feeling. When I get it, I take a lot of notes.
Why should it be any kind of surprise that people don’t read a lot of books that are 800-plus pages long? Whoever said novels had to be that long? They weren’t originally. They don’t have to be. Dispense immediately with this idea that a book has to be 900 pages long to be taken seriously. Make 200-page novels normal.
Recorded songs weren’t originally released complied into “albums.” Singles were the standard, and now they are again. Except now it’s “plays” instead of sales.
What’s the literary equivalent of a single? Does that even work? What’s the literary equivalent of a TikTok video? Is that possible?
I don’t know, but in every other medium, when the consumption method changes, delivery of it changes to accommodate.
Not books, though. Books are still proudly ignoring what people actually want and telling them, “It’s this, or nothing.” It would be like if Sam Goody opened up a bunch of new locations and packed them with CDs and DVDs of music and movies readily available on various streaming platforms.
Sure, a lot of people would express hearty enthusiasm for such an idea, but they wouldn’t go into those stores and buy any physical media. Those people are all talk, just like the people who brag about reading so much.
So, what to do? How to reach an audience who craves bite-sized entertainment?
“Give them what they want,” is the short answer. But what do they want?
They don’t know what they want. We have to tell them. But first, we have to figure it out ourselves.