Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reading Is Over

A couple months ago, I met a newspaper editor at a social gathering.  He had worked many years in the business and was a thoughtful fellow.  He mentioned a couple things his paper had learned from recent market research:

     1) Readers are moving rapidly away from getting their news on PCs, laptops, and tablets          and instead are keeping up with events by checking their mobile phones. 
     2) News consumers now consider themselves well acquainted with a given news                      story, even a complicated one, after reading two paragraphs about it.  


There is a new series of products now, Instaread Summaries.  These are marketed online and in bookstores and allow you to get the gist of a book without having to, you know, read a whole book.

Offerings include 30-minute summaries of Henry Kissinger's new work, World Order, and Cameron Diaz's Body Book. In even less time, 20 minutes, you can get through Atul Gawande's discussion of death and dying, Being Mortal.  Gone Girl, the 422-page novel and 149-minute movie, can be dispatched in a mere 15 minutes. 

Another product on the same theme offers Top 50 Facts Countdowns of individual books.

(All I can say is, the CliffsNotes people made a huge strategic error when they did not extend their reach beyond offerings to high-school and college students.)


The hottest book market today is the "young adult" category.  These books are for and about adolescent persons and their interests.  The themes are simpler, the vocabularies smaller and the structures more direct than in traditional fiction. By 2012, it was revealed, 55 percent of such books were bought (and presumably read) by adults, a percentage that no doubt has increased since then.  

Another fast-growing market segment is graphic novels, which are sort of expanded comic books. This market wavers a bit with popular releases and is still smaller than the superhero-driven comic book market, but the readership trajectory for both seems to be on a steady incline.    


It's all true.  We do not have to resort to reading to absorb information so much these days. We have turned over much of the process to images.  Pictures are immediate. They summon emotions.  

But we still need words.  Words convey ideas and allow us to conduct the subjective thought processes that make us who we are.  We need words to think.  We need to read.

Unfortunately, our print media aren't helping much at the moment.  Newspapers' reportage has been hollowed out.  Magazines, at least the ones that are still publishing and not about celebrities, feature shorter and shorter stories.  Many books are being released, but most of them are pretty terrible.  

One big problem, I think, is that the editors who used to polish up all these products either have retired or been fired or maybe have gone into the screenwriting game.  Big loss. 

Winnowing through what we have left on the internet is kind of a slog for people who like to read and whose cellphones have limited battery life. These days, the internet is a messy, unreliable hodgepodge (yes, including my own contributions) whose shakeout probably will take years. 

Maybe someday we will read again. 

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