Thursday, February 3, 2011

Size matters?

The publishing industry has been all a-twitter about this technology thing for many months now, and today's email from Publishing Perspectives brings up an interesting, albeit unsurprising, point: devices don't care about page numbers. They care about layout, format, type size, but page numbers are obsolete.

Instead, publishers will start thinking in units of time.

Bizarre, isn't it? Read Catcher in the Rye in under four hours! An Eliot poem in seven minutes! A Poe short story in half an hour!

Why this won't work: People read at very different speeds. And we read different books at different speeds; I will fly through a chick-lit novel, but savour the words of Daphne Du Maurier. Finding a 'time' that is universal will be a challenge.

Why this can work: As said in the article, "What if instead of choosing another 47-minute episode of Mad Men from iTunes, that reluctant reader buys a book, knowing she can finish five more chapters before going to bed?"

As mentioned before on this blog, many readers I know choose a book on its length. They won't touch anything over 1.5" thick. Perhaps this could be a more egalitarian way of book-shopping, where the blurb and word-of-mouth mean more than the size.

Had the jacket copy of Freedom stated "This book will take you the better part of a month to digest" I probably would have run a mile. And so much for the 80,000-word novel minimum word count. Perhaps this means the rediscovery of the novella and the rebirth of the short story collection.

So what's better? Small chunks of stories? Diving head-first into a chunky novel without anyone telling you how quickly to finish? Or do readers just want a good story that is well-told?

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