More and more, I am convinced that books need time stamps.
You can’t look at a book to see you it fits into your life. And that matters more as we measure our lives in smaller and smaller slices of time.
I found this image on Alexis Ohanian’s book Without Their Permission:
I liked that the image marks how much time it would take to read and when it might fit into the reader’s life. Youtube videos, Audible audiobook tracks, and Netflix movies each tell us total time for that piece of content.
With digital content, we also know how far we are with the elapsed time marker. As we approach a point in time when we need to move to something else, we can easily decide if we should pause or continue.
Books are bad at both of these concepts because books vary so much. It is easy for publishers to shrink or expand the number of words on a page through line spacing or font size. The size of the page can vary too with big implications across hundreds of pages. The language the author uses can affect the speed of reading. Let’s not even talk about how pictures and photos have no real standardization. The bottom line is the physical appearance of a book is not a good way to judge how long it will take to read.
Medium estimates the time it will take to read their articles. This function also available as a plug-in for blogs and others forms of online publishing. Maybe our devices should tell us how much time is left in a chapter based on the data it has collected, based on our reading rate and the reading rate of others for our current book, other books in the genre and all books collectively. This would be a welcome replacement to our old method of paging ahead to find the chapter’s end.
I have been wondering if we should display the time length of the audiobook alongside the page count of print books or maybe even next to the price of the title. This information is more easily gotten as audiobooks are becoming more common. This could be another useful marker for a reader to determine if they want to buy that particular book.
Smart book publishers might even help readers get over the attention anxiety by providing time estimates for each chapter:
“You can read this book in ten easy installments of 17 minutes each!”
Books definitely fit into our lives. Let’s just do a better job of showing customers how.