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Reading habits in changing times

It is important for authors and publishers to understand that, the real competition today is not among themselves, but authors and publishers as a community are competing against the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp, which are grabbing the largest share of the attention span of today’s youth, as well as, a very mobile workforce.

I had a very interesting experience some time back. As I mentioned in my earlier blog, over the last one year, I wrote a couple of e-books: Nargis Through my Summers and Loves Lost and then published the stories in print in paperback as Romance Shorts. I reached out to a select few of my professional friends in LinkedIn who I know are in the habit of reading fiction. I told them about my book Romance Shorts and that they could order the book from Amazon. Interestingly, a large percentage of them asked me if, instead of ordering the paperback, they could download an e-book in a Kindle device or into their tabs or smartphones. I, then, of course, proceeded to redirect them to the Amazon links of the two aforementioned e-books. What I realized was that, my friends do most of their reading while commuting to and from work, or while waiting in airports for their flights, or, maybe while they are flying. As such, the media of choice for reading have changed, the environments in which people read are different, the time available to them for reading are restricted, the attention spans are short. This perhaps adds another dimension to the problem.

I feel there are a few things we need to be cognizant of while we write and promote our books in these changing times.

Firstly, we are being continually challenged to create content that is relevant, inspiring and interesting to the market we are targeting. Our readers should be able to relate to characters and situations. The story should be able to get the readers involved in such a way that, as the characters deal with situations and look for answers, so do the readers, as the readers have somewhere unconsciously seamlessly slipped into the boots of the characters. The narrative should be powerful enough to stop the reader from checking for Whatsapp messages or Tweets halfway through.   

Secondly, we need to leverage social media to our advantage and use platforms like FB, Whatsapp. Twitter to our advantage to create a broader and all-pervasive presence for our books and ourselves. Authors and publishers can come together to make this possible, creating a strong symbiotic relationship using networks of readers, followers, fellow authors, distribution partners. However, we should be aware that, at the end of the day, the quality of the 'product' matters. No amount of aggressive promotion can make up for lack of quality.

Thirdly, it is extremely important to make books available in the electronic medium, making them more easily accessible and economical, and of course, environment-friendly. Personally, I am an ardent admirer of the age-old appeal of the fragrance of the printed page – new and old. But, we cannot turn our heads away from clearly emerging trends of the future.

Most importantly, I feel the market for quality short reads is all set to rise dramatically. We need more authors who can write engaging short fiction with unpredictable twists - the kind of stories that someone can finish off during an office commute, or while waiting for a flight and feel contented with the day's reading. The same applies to the youth who may not have the attention span for a 300-page novel, but may want to pick up a 100-page anthology of 10 smart short stories in different genres in modern, relevant topics that interest him. The recent success of short reads on platforms like Kindle and Juggernaut (in India) bears testimony. 

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