“My impression of kindle … is that most readers have a very fast cycle of Read it. Love it (hopefully). Forget it.
The one-click buying is very instant gratification. Unless you’re a prolific writer of formulaic genre books, turning out 2 or 3 a year, I don’t see much opportunity for building up a readership. Unless you are constantly on the forums you will quickly be forgotten.”
So said fellow lit fic author, Ali Cooper, on a Facebook thread a couple of days back, sparking a stream of comments from other writers. Many of them saw this as the fatal flaw in digital publishing. The ebook is a fad. Most serious readers will turn back to print for their serious reads.
People probably said the same when the motor car was invented. Just think of the inconvenience. Someone walking in front of you waving a red flag. And besides, our roads aren’t wide enough for them. Noisy smelly things too. It won’t be long before everyone goes back to the horse.
Like it or not, digital is here to stay. It doesn’t mean the death of the print book. People will always love them, just as they love horses. But while we may still stroke real books and allow them to nuzzle up to us, I suspect most of us won’t actually own one.
The truth is that we always adapt to new media – and quickly. New roads are constructed, pot-holes covered over, speed-limits put in place, pedestrian crossings and traffic-lights invented.
And our lifestyle evolves too. Car ownership made society more mobile. We moved away from friends and family, and started commuting to our jobs, miles away. Homes became a commodity and a housing market emerged, as the pace of our vehicle-driven job-hopping increased. Suppliers became national instead of local. Even our towns and cities shifted, as malls clustered around available parking space for the delivery trucks and shoppers.
Is life better? Debatable. Are our behaviors different? Undeniably. Was change inevitable? Irresistibly.
I’m pretty much in agreement with Ali. Yes, Kindle readers – and all digital readers – do tend to read, love, forget. And there’s a reason. Our reading behaviors are changing in response to the new media. Mine are anyway.
Let me borrow an image from Seth Godin: the purple cow. Godin says that if you’re in a herd of cows, people won’t remember you unless you’re different. Purple. But let’s develop his analogy. Imagine you’re in a herd of a million cows – and there’s a green cow too, and a blue cow, and a polka-dot pink cow, and several varieties of stripy red. The other cows don’t say Moo! – they say Me! – and they’re all trying to push to the front.
Here’s how it is for readers. I remember seeing a funny cow last time I came this way … purple, I think it was. Can’t see it now though. Maybe over there. Ah, there’s a pink one. Look, that one’s cute …. OK, kids, time to get moving.
That’s how we read, most of us, much of the time. Scan. Stop. Sample. Maybe Like. Move on. It’s how we use Twitter and Facebook. It’s how we read blogs. It’s not hard to find the evidence. As I write, one of my posts, One of our Tweeps is Missing, has attracted 143 visits today, largely as a result of a Facebook link from Ommwriter, which was featured in the post. On the face of it, a success. Until I look more closely. Google Analytics reveals that only 10 visitors spent more than a minute on the page, and 80% of them flashed past in less than 10 seconds.
But what about the readers who do engage, the ones who take the time to read and absorb and then open other pages? Or in Ali’s case, the dozens of people who cared enough about her excellent first novel, The Girl On The Swing, to write reviews. Now that she’s just published her second, Cave, where are they? They’ve probably not forgotten her: it’s just that right now they’re all tied up with the stripy cows.
So, what does the forward-thinking, market-oriented, technically-adept purple cow do? Figures out the media. Fits herself with a GPS tag, and hands out scanners to fans.
Or something like that.
Again I think Ali gets it right: it’s all about being prolific. She suggests that writing two or three books a year or pounding the Kindle boards will keep you in the public view enough to build up a following. Like Barbara Cartland, who published 723 books … averaging 20 books a year from the age of 77 to 97 … and sold over a billion books! Probably having a few royal connections didn’t do her any harm either. (Most of us prefer to keep that sort of thing quiet.)
Now I couldn’t possibly hammer out a novel a fortnight, but I can still learn something from Ms Cartland. I’ve been blogging for the last 20 days, putting on a live creative writing gig most days. It’s keeping me in front of my readers, and showing them how I write. I’m not sure I’ll have the energy to keep it up too much longer: I’m not a spontaneous writer, and coming up with the story-line and writing with as much care as I’d take in a novel often expands out into an all-day job. But I could, relatively easily, write a 20-30 minute short story every couple of weeks.
How would the short story help? Well, I have good evidence that in our changed reader market, the demand for short stories is strong. A year ago, as a trial, I published three free shorts on Smashwords under my Rapscallion imprint – two from Suki Michelle and one from me. Without any effort at all, we’ve had 2500 downloads. You might argue that the majority of our readers have been greaders – they took the stories and never read them – and you’d probably be right. But it only takes one or two reviews like the wonderful, thoughtful piece from eCapris yesterday to start showing the discriminating reader that we mean business. That we’re trying to raise the bar.
In our mobile world, and with the reading tools we have in our pockets, the 30-minute read is likely to become ever more important. Commuting. The lunch-break. Between classes. In the waiting-room. The moments we snatch in our busy day. The free short story and smart essay fit perfectly into this window. And if the reader learns to love a writer at lunchtime, she may end up with his novel in bed that night.
Of course other social marketing tools will continue to be important, not least the Kindle message-boards. But while my comments there may show people who I am as a person, my short stories show who I am as a writer. That seems important.
And there’s one more thing. Remember the cow’s GPS tag? Here’s my version. When readers sign up as members for my blog, my (still-to-be-launched-but-coming-soon) Associate scheme will allow them an email notification option every time a new short story is released. This purple writer means to stay found.
Am I right about changes to our reading behavior? Has the way you read changed in the digital age?
Related posts – both written a year ago: