I just read a fascinating article about how more people are becoming e-book readers on their phones (not even tablets or Kindles anymore!), and how that’s changing the whats and hows of their reading.
And, of course, when their reading habits change, then … well … an author’s writing needs to change as well. After all, it’s the law of supply and demand.
Here’s a summary of three types of changes in how people read, with quotes from the article on exactly how and why, along with a summary of how this will ultimately impact writers.
Reading change #1: People are skim reading more.
We read webpages in an ‘F’ pattern: the top line, scroll down a bit, have another read, scroll down. Academics have reacted to the increased volume of digitally published papers by skim-reading them. As for books, both anecdotal and survey evidence suggests that English literature students are skim-reading set works by default.
Reading change #2: People have shorter attention spans and are often multitasking while reading.
[American linguist Naomi] Baron reports that a large percentage of young people read ebooks on their cellphones – dipping into them in the coffee queue or on public transport, but then checking their work email or their online love life, a thumbswipe away.
Reading change #3: People get less emotionally involved in the stories they’re reading.
…with the coming of ebooks, the world of the physical book, read so many times that your imagination can ‘inhabit’ individual pages, is dying.
So how are writers and publishers reacting to these habitual changes? What does the future hold?
- Publishers are experimenting with newer, shorter stories to cater to readers’ shorter attention spans.
- Today’s novels have clearer plots and less twists and turns than their 20th century predecessors; this prevents readers from getting confused or lost when they check out of the book mid-chapter to browse Facebook.
- Writers are using less complex prose and are doing less experimentation with fragmented perception. Skimming readers have more trouble absorbing sentences phrased that way.
Finally, here’s a quote from the end of the article on the general change in the role of novels in people’s lives today:
I remember reading novels because the life within them was more exciting, the characters more attractive, the freedom more exhilarating than anything in the reality around me, which seemed stultifying, parochial and enclosed.
To a kid reading Pynchon on a Galaxy 6 this summer, it has to compete with Snapchat and Tinder, plus movies, games and music.
Sad? Sort of … But in a business like writing and publishing, it’s something we’re all going to have to get used to.