Monday, October 3, 2011

Are eReaders changing what we read?

I have a first generation kindle.  Since the beginning of the eReading revolution, I've been partaking of my favorite titles on the smallish, greyscale screen. But I've noticed a trend over the years in my own reading habits. And after an informal survey of best-seller lists, I realized that I might not be the only one exhibiting this pattern of behavior. What is this mysterious phenomena?

I realized the books I regularly choose and enjoy on my kindle are:
1. Shorter in length
2. Have more dialogue
3. Use shorter sentences and paragraphs
4. And generally have more action

That is to say, over time, I gravitated toward buying more genre fiction electronically.  I still buy literary fiction and lengthy works in paperback or hardcover.

In the beginning, I told myself that my choices were about space.  A book had to be a new classic for me to devote shelf-space to it.  But when I purchased The Passage by Justin Cronin on my Kindle while traveling last year, the truth became as apparent as its 1,000 plus electronic pages.  Long books become REALLY long on small screens, and when that small screen is filled with wall to wall prose with no dialogue or paragraph breaks, it is very hard to connect to the story.

So, after cruising around the best-selling ebooks out there, I noticed they hovered right around 200 print pages. In fact, several popular 99 cent works were barely longer than novellas. Submission requirements back up my theory.  Some well known publishing houses  require 90,000-100,000 word length for paper submissions but as low as 40,000 for full length eBooks.

From an author's standpoint, this phenomenon makes business sense.  Theoretically short books might get read by more reviewers and rated more quickly. Thus a good, short ebook has more momentum early on than a long ebook.  Plus, an eBook author can pump out several shorter books and sell them (at a low price) faster than longer works.

Most readers probably can't tell the length of the book based on the size of the download like they might the thickness of a paperback. I know I can't. I only notice that I whiz through the book, which increases my perceived satisfaction. Still, as a reader, it's hard for me not to think of this in the same light as when they changed my peanut butter container to look the same size but hold less at the same price.

What do you think?  Do you believe that eReaders are changing what we perceive as "good writing"?  Do think a book can read better in one format than another?


  1. Interesting discussion. I haven't picked up my ereader in a while now. I have so many books piled up, I haven't needed the ereader. But, I did buy shorter works on my ereader.

  2. I switch back and forth between paper and my kindle too. And I also have more than I can read! I so get that.

  3. Interesting analogy with the peanut butter ... but since a lot of these shorter works are also vastly cheaper than the print counterparts of yesterday ($15+ versus $2.99 or $.99), I don't think anybody is being stiffed...

  4. I've noticed a similar change since getting my Kindle last year. Heck, I've used my iPhone for reading WAY MORE than I thought I would.
    But I've read a bunch of books on my Kindle that would've been less than 300 pages in traditional print.
    These shorter books were short for a reason. Either an author simply extended a short story into a novella, or the author just left out a bunch of stuff, which left me kind of unsatisfied.

  5. Yeah, Jay. I don't think it's acceptable to skimp on story even if the price is cheap.

  6. I agree. I am new to Kindle. Just bought mine and I find myself loving shorter books. But listening to the longer ones has helped me overcome that problem. It is harder to read classics on the cramped screen but listening helps that. Love my Kindle.

  7. I know several people who love audio books. Personally, I struggle to follow the story because I'm often distracted by whatever else I'm doing while I'm listening. But they are very popular - especially for car travel.

  8. I still read the same books, the ones available in ebooks, regardless of length or author. The only difference is that I now read ebooks from those I've met on Twittter or Friday Flash, which some come in shorter lengths. Otherwise, I haven't changed my reading habits since I started reading on iPad besides taking advantage of search and annotation features in technical ebooks.

    I've read that some read more often, which makes sense considering ease of carting an ereader full of books around. Otherwise, I haven't thought much on this topic and considering some of the points brought up, I find it interesting to think about. Thanks, GP.

  9. I can't do audio books either. It might be my ADD, but it's so easy to get dis...oh look, a birdie!

  10. David Shrock - Everyone knows Fridayflash writers are THE BEST!!! :)
    I wonder if the larger screen of the iPad negates the effect.

    Jay - *chuckle* What were we talking about?

  11. Three of the four things you listed actually sound like common preferences today. More people are reading fiction that is shorter (the average YA Fantasy is 33% shorter than an adult's), shorter sentences are commonly advised, and high action is similarly praised. It all sounds like where the market was heading anyway. It's only your preference for dialogue that sounds unusual. Dialogue has long been bashed by editors as cheap, or too often boring (to be fair, these can be true). If e-readers actually spur more people to enjoy quality dialogue-driven stories, I'll be very happy. There's so much that can be done with it.

  12. So John, what do you make of traditional authors having different submission requirements for paper vs. eBook novels?

    I learn something every time you comment. I did not know about editors calling it cheap and boring. It sounds like a bad date! LOL!

  13. I read way more short stories and novellas now than I ever used to, with my Kindle, which I only bought this year. Best investment ever! I find I read a short story per week, but I refuse to read short story anthologies. I really get annoyed with so many different authors' stories all crammed into one work.

    Plus, so many books and short stories are free in ebook format, so I love finding those free stories. If not free, then tons are super cheap. I'm reading a lot more than I used to, although I still buy and read print books all the time. I mix it up pretty equally.

  14. Very interesting...I don't know if it's changed what I read, but I definitely buy certain books on Kindle - ones I would have probably waited to buy in paperback...ones I probably will not re-read. Ones I want to keep forever, I'll still go buy in hardcover.

    I do agree though that a long book does seem longer on an e-reader. LOL

  15. V.R., Another person who still buys hardcover! I think you have to really love books for that.

  16. I am a huge advocate for the eReader for my personal reading habits. I can read quicker without having to have two hands free to keep the pages open. I can have a snack while reading on an eReader which makes me read more frequently. I don't eat or drink while reading printed volums.

    I also don't feel as overwhelmed by the size of the book, because visually it's not any different than any other eBook. Kindle locations vary so short eBooks can say 7700 locations but they could be 200 pages or 400 pages. It's not consistent.

    For reluctant readers I think this can be a big selling point.

    And I know there was no way I'd carry around Stephen King's Under the Dome if it weren't a Kindle book.

    Nothing will ever replace the beauty of a hardcover. And I do love trade paperbacks, but I've always despised mass market paperbacks for the fact that the paper ages quickly and I'm allergic to the smell. And the Kindle screen font size is much better than a MM PB's for reading.

    Sorry, long comment ramble.


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