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Behind The Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column
By Brian Hill & Dee Power

Why Don’t More People Enjoy Reading?
By Brian Hill

     I often have friends or acquaintances ask me, “What are you writing now?” Lately, I’ve been telling them about the new book I am working on, The Making of a Bestseller, and that I am having a great time interviewing famous authors, including authors who are long-time favorites of mine. When I tell these friends and acquaintances some of the authors’ names, to my surprise many of them show not a hint of recognition. I’m thinking, you’ve never heard of (Bestselling Author)??? How can that be? This author has sold 40 million books…

     Before you jump to the hasty conclusion that I have illiterate or doltish friends, I would submit that there is another possible conclusion: the publishing industry is not reaching a large segment of its potential customer base. This seems strange when you consider books are now available nearly everywhere--in all the discount stores, even grocery stores. So why aren’t more people reading? Here are a few possibilities.

     Books are too expensive compared to other entertainment options. It is interesting you can rent a video or DVD of a movie based on a book for $3.99, but if you want to buy the book you may be paying $8.95 in paperback all the way up to $25 or more for hardcover. The analogy isn’t perfect, because you have to return the video or DVD, but in both cases you get to experience the entertainment. Several years ago during the holiday season, when DVDs and DVD players became all the rage, it was reported that the sales of several normally powerhouse authors’ newly released books—including Stephen King and Michael Crichton—were somewhat disappointing. Coincidence? Or does a glittering new technology have more allure as a gift item than the work of a reliable, even beloved author?

     The stress of today’s existence doesn’t allow for enough quiet reading time. It seems that for many people, their workload is increasing, the job encroaching more and more on free time. This is partially due to everyone using e-mail, allowing us to communicate with co-workers or clients anytime at night or on weekends, and the fact that so many people have home offices. In the “olden days” the only time you had to work on weekends was when your boss called you in on Saturdays. Now we end up volunteering ourselves; it’s so easy to say, “Oh I’ll just work an hour or so after dinner.” Then next thing you know it’s 11PM, and that great novel you just bought never even gets cracked open.

     We have so many—too many--entertainment and educational choices. Even the “boob tube” that serious book readers used to deride, is no longer such an intellectual desert, with all the cable channels such as The Discovery Channel and The History Channel. Instead of reading a book about decorating their houses, many people would rather watch the actual step-by-step process of a house being decorated on the Home and Garden network (HGTV). And of course, now we have an even greater time-sucking device in our homes and offices, the Internet, which contributes to our next possibility:

     A nation of tired eyes and tired minds. The computer is a wonderful productivity tool, but staring at it all day can be tiring, even mind-numbing. Many millions of people spend the bulk of their days acquiring, sharing and processing information delivered to them through computers. Perhaps many of us don’t have the mental energy left at the end of the day to plunge into a book, even an engaging, exciting one we’ve been looking forward to.

     Proliferation of magazines. Magazines have several competitive advantages over books, the first being they are able to hold the cost down by selling advertising. Most of us wouldn’t put up with reading a novel that had an ad every five pages. Also, there seems to be a magazine for almost every conceivable micro-interest. They don’t just have golf magazines, they have golf travel magazines and golf equipment magazines, magazines for bad golfers, and for really, really bad golfers. We can pursue our interests with a much lower investment of time and money by subscribing to magazines. You would think this might inspire the return to popularity of those wonderful magazines with short fiction stories in them, but this doesn’t seem to have happened.

     Too many books are published each year. You can get lost when you go in the bookstore.  When bookstores were smaller, independent, neighborhood-based stores, it was easier to get to know the bookstore employees and ask for their recommendations about what were the most intriguing new books. You could take a look at all their new books in a relatively short time and make your choices. Now, over 100,000 books are published each year. When I go into a chain bookstore, I always get this slightly depressed feeling from seeing all the thousands of books I haven’t read, all the subjects I don’t know much about. Perhaps some people walk into these stores, have no idea where to start looking, and just walk back out.

      Everyone’s too busy writing their own next great American novel to have the time to read.

      Hmmm…I think that’s it.

Copyright May 2004

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Why Don’t More People Enjoy Reading?

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