Expanding Your Bookshelf: A New Kind of Storytelling

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Posted October 2, 2015, 10:00 a.m.
by Madalyn Atherton.

The publishing world fears that the rise of social media and the Internet will mean the downfall of books. Seventy-six percent of people over 18 read at least one book in 2013, so I wouldn’t be too worried.

However, that doesn’t sound like a lot — one book a year — but reading is reading. That Pew Research study also showed 69 percent of those books were read in print with only 28 percent being consumed in e-book format.

It’s easy to say that those readers are just adults, and teenagers these days can only type and read 140 characters at a time. That is the old, tired voice of an aging generation who doesn’t understand that just because millennials know how to use the Internet doesn’t mean we can’t also enjoy a good book. Forty-six percent of 16- to 17-year-olds read every day or almost every day. It’s not a majority, but it’s close. Only 17 percent of the same age group said they read less often or never.

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Courtesy of “Thomas R. Stegelmann”

The same Pew Research study said, “Younger Americans are more likely than older adults to have read at least one book in [a year].” In a surprising turn of events, “adults ages 65 and older are the age group least likely to have read a book in the past year.”

“It’s the first digital generation, so there’s a tendency to lump them together and think this is how people who’ve grown up with this technology behave,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute to Time.

Previous generations are just now learning not to underestimate and generalize millennials. It’s not just teenagers, either. The numbers don’t go down too much for the rest of the millennial generation. Adults ages 18-29 are almost as likely to have read a book in the past year at 43 percent.

Publishing isn’t dying; it’s just changing. Reading e-books doesn’t have the same health benefits as reading a paper book, but reading is reading. Fifty percent of readers own an e-reader, but only 4 percent of them read on it exclusively. People are becoming reading omnivores, consuming diverse types of books.

E-books are believed to comprise 25 to 30 percent of the book market, but that number has plateaued in the past few years. Seven out of 10 Americans have read a print book in the past year.

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Courtesy of “Ian Forrester”

So, books aren’t going anywhere, and the biggest consumer of them is the generation that gets mocked for being so into their phones that they don’t even know what a book is. Writers and publishers who want to grow their business in this digital world have to embrace the Internet and use it to their advantage.

As the majority of readers are younger, it’s important to find the readers where they already are: the Internet. J.K. Rowling uses her Twitter to connect with readers and also reveal new information about her beloved Harry Potter universe. She also has Pottermore, where she created an entire online forum dedicated to her magical world.

George R.R. Martin has a website and a blog that he updates on a regular basis to keep in touch with fans of his best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series. He has a Twitter, but doesn’t tweet often. He may not be hip with the times or as active on social media as his fans, but he has a strong (if retro) online presence.

Social media and the Internet aren’t just a supplement to storytelling; they’ve become a vital part. Yes, people can find out about books through word of mouth or reading the actual, physical New York Times to see its best-seller list, but one of the quickest ways to find books is on the Internet. Readers can search for the kinds of books they want and have a million choices. Someone may follow an author on a social media platform, share something funny they say and lead a friend to them as well.

Being online helps turn the solitary act of reading into a shared group experience.

The goal of books is to tell stories, and the Internet is just another way to do that. By putting the Internet and books in mutually exclusive categories, purists are cutting themselves off from almost boundless possibilities.

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Courtesy of “Slava Murava Kiss”

“The Right Sort” by David Mitchell was written entirely in tweets, and he’s not the first one to experiment with storytelling on Twitter. Utilizing the social media platform in that way helped him not only create hype for his book, but also reach a different audience.

The rise of the digital age isn’t killing storytelling. It’s helping it grow.

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