Gen Y Reads -- But Only for Nine Minutes A Day
Are twentysomethings changing the culture of literature?
Usually, Julisa Soto’s high school teachers have to remind her to put away her T-Mobile Sidekick. One day, though, her math teacher had to ask her to put away a 544-page vampire romance. She reluctantly tried to stuff it into her school bag, which wouldn’t zip.
Soto is one of 20 million enthusiasts of “Twilight,” Stephanie Meyer’s steamy four-novel series about a 17-year-old in love with a vampire. As earlier kids and teens did for Harry Potter, Gen Y readers flocked to Barnes & Noble for the midnight release of the final “Twilight” installment, in August 2008.
Seduced by TV, the Internet, video games and text messaging, young people are famously reading less and less – 15-to 24-year-old Americans spend less than nine minutes a day reading for pleasure, according to 2008 U.S. Department of Labor statistics.
Yet in other ways, Gen Y is deeply engaged in media. The most popular books reflect the elements that teenagers have always valued in storytelling: a relatable hero or heroine, and an intriguing fantasy world.
The difference today is multifaceted marketing, via movie adaptations, websites and blogs.
Whatever Happened to Curling Up on the Couch with a Good Book?
Gen Y approaches reading differently than previous generations, who did not grow up with the distractions of MTV and Paris Hilton, explained Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation: how the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future.”
“Books come to have no personal meaning, only an academic meaning,” said Bauerlein, 49, in an email interview. An English professor at Emory University, Bauerlein also oversaw the National Endowment for the Arts Reading at Risk Report in 2004. That study revealed that less than one-third of 13-year-olds read daily, and that the number of 17-year-olds who don’t read for pleasure at all has doubled over the past 20 years. And 20 percent of the time, even those readers are simultaneously using other media: watching TV or instant messaging.
Teenagers are devoting huge amounts of time to media leisure in general: more than 44 hours per week, roughly equal to a full-time job, according to a 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation report. Often, they were multitasking. A teenager might listen to Britney Spears while visiting a friend’s Facebook page, and texting a different friend about the scandalous picture he just saw on Facebook, and how horrible the new Spears album is.
Multitasking carries over to the realm of reading, noted Kelly Simmons, author of “Standing Still,” a novel about a woman who is kidnapped. The story line shifts back and forth between the kidnapping narrative and the victim’s reflections.
“Younger readers always mention that they like my zigzagging timeline,” said Simmons. “I think it could be because they can hold dual thoughts in their head, and juggle information better.” Simmons said that younger readers also praise the socially relevant concerns of her novel.
They Are Reading - But Online
“The entire landscape of the literary world is changing,” said Sabrina Sumsion, a book publicist at Spotlight Publicity in Lincoln, Nebraska, which uses the Internet to entice gen Y readers.
“I try to get blogs buzzing and social networking sites talking about a book,” she said. “The bottom line is you can’t stick to releasing a print book, advertising it and sitting back anymore. The more the book is tied in, the more people will hear about it.”
Facebook’s Books iRead site claims to have more than 600,000 monthly active users. Members can display books they are reading, write reviews and start book clubs.
Fan fiction, in which readers write their own stories about characters from popular books, and book blogs, are also increasing. Harry Potter Fan Fiction is the Mecca for Harry Potter fanatics, where they can read over 50,000 Harry Potter stories. “Twilight” is quickly catching p.
Eric Ginsberg, vice president of marketing at BookSwim.com, a website that rents books online (it works like Netflix), said he is optimistic that the practice of reading will never die.
“As the world gets faster, a backlash is growing,” he said, “Many of us stare into a screen all day long, and because of this there is a growing number of people less interested in spending their home time in front of the TV, staring into yet another screen.
“Many people, especially generation Y, are turning to recreation in the form of books and other low-tech activities as a reprieve from the fast-paced technology that otherwise rules our world.”