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?

Search This Blog