When was the last time you read a book? A real book that is - not an e-book or an audio book.
The fact that it took me some time for my memory banks to surface this particular piece of information should have been a red flag right from the start. However when I actually arrived at the answer I must admit that it really made me pause for thought.
As eerie as this may sound, it is actually 4 years to the day that I last picked up a paperback. That is 1,461 days, a little under 209 weeks and a little over 35,000 hours. Thinking back to the day itself, I recall hastily packing my carry-on luggage – passport, sunglasses, change of socks and the giveaway sleeping mask from my last long haul flight which I never used again and certainly didn’t use on the plane I would board in a couple of hours’ time – and passing the book shelf I grabbed a couple of titles. They were Christopher Moore’s ‘Lamb’ and Erin Morgenstern’s ‘Night Circus’.
Having started Moore’s ‘Lamb’ on the plane, I distinctly recall the feeling of reading an actual book again. It felt different, and in a good way. It was like picking up the guitar again after years of it gathering dust in the cupboard under the stairs. It required more concentration and focus, but in a matter of minutes I was completely gone. There was no plane. No uncomfortable seat. No ridiculously enthusiastic air conditioning. There was just me and the story.
I should probably make the point at this stage that I am, in fact, a regular devourer of fiction. Since I discovered audiobooks in cassette tape format when I was 7 or 8 years of age (the excellent ‘The Outsiders’ by S. E. Hinton, read by Jim Fyfe), I haven’t looked back. I continued to read of course, but if there was an audio version of my chosen novel, there wasn’t really a choice to make. Something about the combination of narration and the almost uninterrupted flow of information into the brain via the ears, to me made for a far more immersive experience. As the availability of more and more titles increased, so my chosen medium by which I digested story after story became cemented.
As a subscriber to Audible.com, my library now stretches to more than 100 titles, however when someone asks me if I have read such and such a book, why is it that I feel slightly disingenuous when I reply that I have? Ok so I haven’t actually read it, but I have listened to it – but why does it feel different?
Alexandra Alter of the Wall Street Journal writes that the audio surge is changing the very way people read, "creating a new breed of literary omnivores who see narrated books and text as interchangeable."
But there's a real distinction between reading and listening that goes beyond any stuffy judgments made by book purists. Indeed, the evidence suggests that our mode of enjoying a book can alter the way we absorb its material. The very freedom granted by audio books—inviting the eyes to wander, and then the mind, may make them less intellectually interchangeable with printed ones than some readers would like.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well it got me thinking about how significant the medium through which you consume content actually is. My love for audio and narration has shaped the way I prefer to absorb stories, so much so that when I hear about an exciting new release, my first port of call is to search online to see when the audio version will be released. Thankfully these are now launched simultaneously with the printed format, and that alone should tell you something very important. Publishers now realise that there is a huge audience out there who are just like me – in their 30’s with children and with limited free time - and they are making smart business decisions off of that information.
As a team, theblueballroom is all about stories. They are everything to us – we play with them, we share them, we create them – and they are no different to any other piece of art. They are there to have an effect and to catch someone’s attention. The difference between the stories which we tell, and those told by the most prolific and lauded authors of our time, is that we think a lot more about the way in which our stories will be received. Because we have to.
How you distribute your content is just as important as the content you produce. There are very few instances in which I would directly contradict the teachings of Sir Kevin of Costner, but in our industry “Build It and They Will Come” just doesn’t apply. Don’t waste all of your blood, sweat and tears creating something you and your team are proud of, only to fall at the final hurdle because you didn’t sit down and think about how your audience will experience the content.
In the movies “Build It and They Will Come” is a great line, but in terms of a strategy it just doesn’t cut the mustard.