I have a Kindle, somewhere.
Seriously, I know where my Kindle is. I just haven’t looked at it in a long time and it was brought to my attention today. I pondered why I haven’t read anything on Kindle and realized Kindle isn’t cool anymore.
Time flies, we all know, but the Kindle was invented in 2007. Some of you are probably thinking it wasn’t all that cool back then, but that’s a full decade of new inventions between then and now and there have been some pretty cool inventions.
Would you give a Kindle as a Christmas gift this year? Would you be thrilled if you received one? If the answer to both questions is no, then you have confirmed Kindle ain’t cool, man.
If Kindle ain’t cool, then I suppose that means the old-fashioned book may come back, but would you be thrilled if you received a book for Christmas? I think you see where I’m going with this.
Perhaps it’s a habit formed by watching Netflix, but I can only give a bad book so much time out of my life before I skip to the end and cut to the chase.
If I find a new show on Netflix, I give it a few minutes and if the acting isn’t sincere or the story intriguing I turn it off. This is a phenomenon relatively new in the world of fiction consumption. Many years ago in the stone age, we used to pay for a movie and sit in the theater for two hours whether we liked it or not; we used to suffer through commercial breaks for hours in our living rooms, because nothing else was on but the dumb show in front of us. Here in the future, there is always something else on, somewhere.
So, when I pick up a new book and start reading, those first few chapters better be snazzy and the story better keep getting better or I am done with it.
I recently started reading Origin by Dan Brown. I made it about 10 chapters in and realized he was just stringing me along for the next six hours of my life before revealing what his fictional scientist discovered about the origin of the species. I skipped to the page with the big reveal and saved myself six hours. The big reveal was a big disappointment, by the way. Don’t bother picking that book up.
I did the same with another Brown recently. Sandra Brown’s book Seeing Red caught my attention on the front page of a Barnes & Noble bestseller list one day, so I gave in and ordered it through the mail like an old-fashioned, Kindle-less reader. It was a total bore, so I skipped to the end and confirmed it all turned out just the way I thought it would.
If I am representative of modern day consumers, we don’t have time for books anymore. We want gripping stories that keep delivering from start to finish and we have the ability to search for them quickly. Books that pose interesting questions in the first few chapters only to make us wade through garbage to find the answers aren’t going to work anymore.
After three years or so of picking along one chapter at a time, I finally finished Don Quixote. Don’t misunderstand and think it took me that long because it wasn’t good. It was a great book, all 982 pages of it.
The most surprising thing about it was the sense of humor. The writing is often sarcastic and translates surprisingly well around 400 years after it was written. There were a few chapters that were tedious reads, but only a few. The ending wasn’t what I expected, either, but the book doesn’t contain cliffhanging plot twists like modern, commercial fiction.
After I finished the old classic, I moved on to Dan Brown’s Origin, which is modern, commercial fiction. It’s the latest novel in Brown’s DaVinci Code series. I prefer the old classic, because modern fiction always feels like it is trying so hard to keep you reading to find the answers.
The hook to Origin is that some scientist guy has discovered where humans really came from and where they are going. Every time you think this discovery is to be revealed, something happens to keep it hidden from the reader. While this is obviously supposed to create suspense and intrigue, it does the opposite for me. It makes each chapter more predictable, because I know each chapter will end with some unanswered question.
Origin reads a lot like a modern movie script. It’s entertaining, but that’s about it. The first 50 pages or so were pretty good, but once you reach page 100, it feels like Brown is just stringing you along with predictable action scenes.
I’ve always felt this way about modern fiction, which is why I usually stick to the classics, like Don Quixote, which I highly recommend.
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.
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.
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.
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.