Author: JJ Petes

Two audio books on an airplane

A gave audio books a try for the first time this summer, both while traveling by airplane. Flights were the perfect occasions for audio books, if you like privacy like I do. I could just plug in the headphones and sit back and listen without fear of fellow passengers reading over my shoulder or asking me about the books.

I listened to Dead Lake by Darcy Coates and The Fix by David Baldacci. Neither book was especially impactful. I gave both two-star ratings on Goodreads. My lack of interest in the books may be the reason for my not caring for the audio-book experience. Listening to a book wasn’t the same as reading it. Of course, when you read a book, the voice you hear is your own; that may have something to do with it.

Audio books cost two or three times as much as a real book, presumably due to the cost of hiring a reader and renting a recording studio. I listened via iPhone, so there was a cool feature I utilized a bunch, a feature that allows turning up the speed of the read. The readers sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks at the highest speed, but it works surprisingly well and gets you through the book a lot faster.

The concept of an audio book makes sense and I see a lot of advertising by Audible these days, which leads me to believe the big booksellers are perhaps counting on audio books to save the publishing industry. After giving two a try, I won’t be going back anytime soon. I’ll be sticking with the old-fashioned way of reading books, if I continue to read books at all.

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The super-short e-book failed super fast

I couldn’t even give away a single super-short e-book, which is a failure of sorts, but a useful experiment. It sheds a little light on what a particular audience is thinking, in this case an audience of 100 or so people who don’t already have a book-reading habit.

Combining the latest experiment with some past experiments, I’ve found that the only people who are willing to read something on Kindle or any other reading device, are people who already use a Kindle or reading app. Nobody will download an app on their phone just to read one book, no matter how short. It’s too inconvenient.

It is worth noting that the same people who would not download an eight-page free e-book, have a four-year history of reading posts from my various free blogs. So, these people are an established audience who like to read my writing, but still wouldn’t download a free book to Kindle.

It is also worth noting, I have done previous experiments in which established Kindle readers did download my free e-books, proving that Kindle readers are willing to give my stories a shot, while blog followers are not.

The conclusion seems to be, if you want to publish e-books, you can’t try to reinvent the book-selling formula. If you want to reinvent the way people read, you’ll have to do so outside the realm of books.

 

The super-short e-book

I have a theory that people would read more if books were shorter, say like 10 pages or less. If that sounds ridiculous, wait until you hear me out.

In a year of study, I’ve found people really don’t read books. They hate the idea of reading books for one reason: it takes too long. People will binge watch a TV series for six hours, but will say reading a book takes too long. People will watch movies for two hours, even if they are bad movies. People even seem to take pleasure in watching bad movies and critiquing them afterward with friends. Nobody wants to wade through a bad book, however, and fear of doing so prevents people from even picking one up.

The key to being a modern writer is to come up with a format of reading that would allow people to read bad books and not mind.

To think in purely economic terms, as opposed to artistic, we are talking about consumers and their tendencies for purchasing stories. People need stories of some kind. They literally can’t live without them. By far the most popular way to consume stories is through video. No matter how much you tout a book, most people would rather get the story through their TV.

What if books were super short? Would people want to come home on a Friday night and read a 10-page story? My history of blogging has proved that people do like to read, as long as the reading doesn’t take too long.

I have released a super-short e-book as a test. You can read it for free this Friday through Sunday. It is called The Secret, by JJ Petes. It is available for 99 cents on Kindle or can be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription right now.

I expect nobody to read this super short e-book and I certainly have no intention of making money from it. I only want to test the theory. If even a couple of my small number of followers gives the book a try, maybe I’m on to something. Super short might be the only way to go.

 

 

Audio books put me to sleep

I fell victim to an advertisement for audio books as well as a Facebook friend touting their advantages. I tried one on an airplane last week. I fell asleep.

Maybe it’s just me, but audio books are a poor substitute for books. There is something meaningful about reading the actual words with your own voice in your head. 

The theory behind audio books seems to be that reading is too cumbersome and having someone read to you is so much easier, but it almost took the fun out of it for me.

I suppose it all depends on the setting. There is something nice about listening to a book and knowing that nobody else on the plane knows what you are listening to. If you watch a movie on the plane, several people around you can tune in with you.

Of course audio books tend to me considerably more pricey than books, so I doubt I will go back to audio anytime soon when I really just prefer to read myself.

The art of selling stories

What’s the first question someone invariably asks when you tell them you are reading a great book?

“What’s it about?”

If you say it’s about good vs. evil battling it out in outer space and they aren’t interested in that kind of thing, they will shrug their shoulders and never bother reading. People make up their mind very quickly about whether they are willing to buy a story.

Once I was at work and I told a woman I work with that I had an idea for a story. I said I was writing about a woman who meets her soul mate, but is already married to someone else. Within the next couple of days, different women around the office were asking me about the book and saying they thought it sounded good, yet that one-sentence premise was all they knew about it.

I asked the women what they would do in that situation and each one said she would stay with her husband. I didn’t realize until much later that I was basically planning to write Bridges of Madison County, which makes me think about the difficulty in selling old stories.

Movies like Casablanca or books like the Invisible Man probably aren’t making much money at this moment and it isn’t because they aren’t any good. It’s because they aren’t front and center in our minds.

People don’t read books because they are well written and they don’t watch movies because they are artistically shot. Take the two following cases as proof:

The seven-year old son of a man I know was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt the other day. I asked him if he was a Star Wars fan.

“Not really,” he said. “But I’ll watch it anyway.”

I just finished watching a movie called Passengers, which was made in the past year and frankly wasn’t impressive. I watched it anyway, because the premise intrigued me and I was in a tired mood and needed to relax.

In both cases, the consumer would gladly watch a better movie, but would also be willing to settle for a mediocre one. Now I understand how so many bad books and movies get made. The public doesn’t demand good.

If I told that kid he could watch a great classic movie from 1956 or the latest Marvel superhero movie, he would probably choose the latter. Premise and freshness trumps depth of content when selling a story.

 

 

 

E-books in higher demand than print

If print books are returning to prominence, why are they cheaper than e-books?

While book browsing on Amazon the other day, I noticed the price of an e-book is almost always a dollar or two more than the paper version of the same book. The print book costs more for publishers to produce than an e-book, yet is less expensive to buy.

E-books are not physical inventory items, so Amazon has no reason to unload them in a hurry, whereas print books are lying around, taking up warehouse space, so maybe Amazon wants to sell them faster to get rid of them.

Or, maybe it is simply a case of supply and demand and e-books are in higher demand. I seem to remember a time when e-books were much cheaper than print, but that was prior to the smartphone era. You used to have to own a Kindle to read an e-book and Kindles were expensive, so one incentive to buy a Kindle was the ability to buy cheaper books. Now, everyone with a smartphone can use a Kindle app for free and e-book prices are rising.

Amazon wouldn’t raise the price of e-books if people weren’t paying, so people must be willing to pay more for the e-books. That can only be for one reason: convenience. If I decide I want to read A Wrinkle in Time, I can go online and order the e-book and start reading it in less than a minute, or I can order the print version and start reading it next week.

Print books will eventually die off for the same reason video rental stores and printed newspapers are dying off. They are inconvenient and unnecessary.

Can I throw away my Kindle?

A woman I know loves to read books, but never finds the time. Recently, she became determined to make time for some books, so she went book shopping. She has a Kindle, but didn’t even bother to charge it up. Instead, she ordered print books online.

“I want a real book to curl up on the couch with,” she said.

We hear more and more lately about how people are going back to print books from e-books, but are they really? Are they actually reading the print books, or just buying them? The truth is, knowing the woman as I do, I am positive she won’t read those books she bought. If she ever finishes the books, it will be two or three years from now, maybe longer.

I think people like the idea of reading books and buying them is part of a fantasy world. They envision themselves curled up on that couch, drinking tea and digesting the latest historical novel, but that fantasy never quite fits into their day. We’ll see if she ever reads those books. If she does, I’ll let you all know.