Back in January the popular porn site Pornhub reported that roughly 4 billion hours of pornography were consumed by their 21.2 billion visitors in 2015. Meanwhile, some studies estimate that the average American only reads about 19 minutes every day with those 25-34 averaging closer to 8 minutes. Oof. Do you feel that? A whole lot of discouraged writers just threw up their hands and said, “*&%$ it – I’m going to pornhub.”
Those are really discouraging numbers and they bear out from my anecdotal experience. I asked some friends how many minutes they spend just reading every day and got numbers between 5 and 10 minutes. You see one of the advantages pornhub has over reading (aside from the SEXOMGSEXNAKEDNAKEDSEXSEX) is that you can just queue up some light to medium core pornography on your iPad while you’re making coffee in the morning and checking up on Facebook notifications. Visual and audio media are tailor made for the modern multitasker. Reading a novel or a story or a blog post is a different value proposition.
Sure, you could be watching three-quarter-core porno while you’re reading my blog but I think we all know that’s probably not happening. My blog kinda kills the porno mood, I’m afraid – unless you find insights on the publishing industry and creative content generation real steamy. No, if you’re reading this blog, or one of my stories or books, that’s probably all you’re doing. And if you are reading this and also doing pilates or chainsaw juggling or watching double decaf mocha core porno – you’re reading my work wrong. In fact you’re reading any author’s work wrong if you don’t give it your undivided attention. I don’t mean that you, dear reader, dear, awesome, click-my-link and tell your friends, reader, is wrong. No, you’re my favorite. But there’s a right and wrong way to read and just like it would ruin your pornhub experience if you paired it with my cogent literary analysis, it ruins my cogent literary analysis when you pair it with slappy slappy ding dong chicka chicka bow wow video taped naked stuff.
This is a really challenging time to be a writer of long-form fiction. There’s still a devoted reader base that reads a lot. I know several folks that are reading a book a week. But it’s not mainstream like it once was. You can be reasonably sure people have seen House of Cards on Netflix and make some passing reference to it during a dinner conversation but try bringing up the latest Michael Chabon book and you’ll probably get blank stares. I mean, obviously this isn’t true for every dinner table but in a country where F. Scott Fitzgerald used to be famous and could make a respectable Jazz Age living selling short stories, we’re now in a place in our history where reality TV stars get bigger book contracts than Pulitzer Prize winners. The written word is not as valuable as it used to be on a large scale.
All right. The end. Wow, that sure was a bummer.
Alright, here’s the silver lining: reading is coming back. It’s not roaring back all once but younger people are reading more than their elders. Digital readers and social media has changed things. There are 40 million members of Goodreads – and it keeps doubling. Now, that’s not 21.2 billion pornhubbers but it’s nothing to sneeze at. Where there’s a culture of reading there are readers and the culture of reading is increasing. Readers are finding and sharing new books with thousands or hundreds of thousands of readers in minutes. The average number books Americans read, skewed of course by voracious readers, is about 12. If you extrapolate from that – there are over 300 million people in the US and if you squint and look on the bright side of life you could take that 300 million times 12 and ignore a lot of complicated statistical considerations and yadda yadda algebra and end up with OHHEYSOMEONEMIGHTACTUALLYREADTHISAFTERALL.
The death of reading has been pronounced since before most of us were born. Radio was going to kill it. Then motion pictures. Then TV. Now it’s pornhub. And pornhub is a fierce opponent but storytellers are still here and readers are still reading. It’s really easy to be daunted. I can get 5 minutes? Is that all? We have to earn reader’s loyalty and attention just like we always had to. It might mean the stories have be better or different than they’ve been. It might mean that we have to write for a smaller but more passionate demographic and forget our delusions of being F. Scott Fitzgerald. It might mean changing the expectation of what long form fiction is to the modern reader. It’s a challenge but what’s one more impossible set of odds to overcome? It’s still a hell of a lot easier than chainsaw juggling.