Episode 65 – Social Sharing, Failure, and Millennials

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Question of the Week: Why aren’t millennials buying ebooks? Is it a lack of time, too much technology, have young people always read less, or is it something else entirely?

Bryan and Jim are back in action with another week of the latest tips and news. After Bryan discussed the recent Stanley Cup bet he won with Pete Bauer, the devilishly handsome duo talked about the Alphasmart 3000, valuing your mistakes, and how to use Scrivener to organize your marketing. News stories focused on an update to the German adult ebook law, reading among millennials, why trad pub can’t innovate, how to truly own your books, the true cost of traditional publishing, and why social sharing could be the new author marketing craze. This week’s Question of the Week: Why aren’t millennials buying ebooks? Is it a lack of time, too much technology, have young people always read less, or is it something else entirely?
What You’ll Learn: 
  • How to write using a $19 word processor
  • Why you should value your mistakes
  • How to use Scrivener to organize your marketing
  • What German lawmakers are doing with the adult ebook restriction
  • How many millennials read ebooks in the UK
  • Why corporations are unlikely to innovate in publishing
  • How to exercise control over your self-published books
  • The true cost of traditional publishing
  • Why social sharing could be the future of book discovery
Question of the Week: Why aren’t millennials buying ebooks? Is it a lack of time, too much technology, have young people always read less, or is it something else entirely?

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  • QoTW: Speaking as a millennial, I definitely think it’s a combination of lack of time and too much technology/distractions. There are too many other things that catch our attention (video games, music, raising a family, etc.), books tend to be put on the back burner. Sometimes I think it’s our way of rebelling after having to read so much in college and high school, we don’t want anything to do with books anymore.

    Thankfully, I am one of those few oddballs who still enjoy reading 🙂

    I think one way to encourage reading among our generation is for celebrities, pop culture icons, and other famous people we look up to glamorize how cool reading is. I’m not talking about those after-school PSAs, more like, making a Twitter post about a book they’re reading or posting an Instagram pic of them holding their favorite book with a caption about how much they’re enjoying it, and they should check it out, too. Young people tend to imitate their mentors, and this would be a really effective way to get the message across (not to mention, authors will get free advertising). Everyone wins.

    • Bryan

      I definitely think rebellion is a factor. I would love it if celebs did more reading and pitched it to kids! Great idea :).

      • Patrick Stemp

        It doesn’t help to have morons like Kanye West telling kids he hates reading and has never finished a book.

        • As an ex-teacher I can say that I heard that comment a lot from men in general. If I could give 1 vital tip to parents, it would be, “Let your kids see you reading for pleasure.” I know from experience that this makes a huge difference to educational outcomes.

  • “But, on the other hand of the coin…” – Jim Kukral

    My new favorite quote.

  • Marie M.

    I have noticed this trend of young people not reading books happen with every generation. The publishing and book selling industry were ringing their hands that they were losing young readers back in the 1990’s just before Harry Potter hit and whamo we had children of all ages lining up at midnight to be the first to buy the books. The other Marie had a good point about media overload. I like ebooks but since I am in front of computer screen all day long I prefer to read print books so it feels less like work.

    • Bryan

      Good point, Marie.

  • My daughter (19 years old) reads paperbacks only (hardcovers are too hard to hold and ebooks “aren’t the same.”). I suggested that she could read books cheaper on her iphone and she said would have to switch back and forth too much between her apps and the book, so no go. 😉

    I offered her my kindle touch and she declined. I’m sure she’d take a Fire, but then she’d have the same problem as her iphone. 😀

  • Kids today…

    • Bryan

      *shakes fist*

  • I write YA, so I spend a lot of time on Instagram, where the teens tend to hang out. The readers in that group are absolute fanatics. They love their books and the fandoms are huge. But they also love their paper. They see books as items to collect. They organize them by color, decorate their bookshelves with fairy lights, and take pictures of them to post. Snapping a photo of your Kindle copy isn’t quite the same. More are reading ebooks, though. The economics of reading is pushing them in that direction. A teen with no income will find that she can by five ebooks for the price of one paperback. Marketing to them is an entirely different subject!

    • Bryan

      Yeah, if you come upon any YA marketing secrets, you just let me know ;).

  • John L. Monk

    Kids aren’t reading ebooks because…
    1) they have daily access to libraries, starting with their school.
    2) they are overloaded by homework, and the last thing they want to do is sit in school all day, then do homework in the evening, and then crack open a book (which they’d get from the library).
    3) tablets are expensive, so there’s a certain number of kids who won’t get them because they can be broken, stolen, or even used to cause trouble (same with phones in this last bit).
    4) very possibly, kids are borrowing their parents’ ereaders, and any numbers being captured (data) get credited to adults.

    • Jacob Williams

      What John said.

    • Bryan

      Yeah, I was thinking of #4 the other day. Great point.

      • John L. Monk

        Thanks man 🙂

  • Jacob Williams

    Kids read and write much more today than they ever have in history. They’re also smarter.

    Kids no longer have to believe outlandish rumors about celebrities drinking too much jizz or argue with friends over easily provable or disprovable things.=. They just whip out their phones and google it.

    When I was a teenager I never read a single comment or status update. I wouldn’t be surprised if kids in aggregate read AND write several novels worth of words every month.

    • John L. Monk

      Haha, you k now, I DID hear a rumor about that when I was in college…about a celebrity singer. Terrible how many people believed it, and won’t repeat it here 🙂

    • Bryan

      Great point. If only they could turn those comments INTO a novel.

  • robertscanlon

    Just to be completely facile, Millenials don’t read many books because not many come in under 140 characters? (Removes tongue from cheek)

    Then again, there’s always the 6-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” http://www.sixwordstories.net/ https://twitter.com/sixwordstories

    And my favourite: “Oh my God,” said the Queen. “I’m pregnant. I wonder who did

    My daughter is 12, and reads voraciously. But I buy all her ebooks for her, and she reads on her iPad. She reads paperbacks too … she’ll read the back of a cereal packet, or my emails over my shoulder. So there are big readers, but they’re largely invisible to the indie author stats I think (and dominated by trad pub, and by viral peer-to-peer “omg u must read this!”).

    • Bryan

      We need to work on those “omg u must read this” shareables!

  • Spider McGee

    Kids don’t buy anything these days. Why buy when you can steal? Artists shouldn’t get paid for their work anymore. And hey, Amazon…even Dickens made a penny a word, you cheap bastards. And that was, like, a million, zillion years ago.

    On the other hand, the Alphasmart 3000 is a great piece of technology. I’m a bit obsessive about my writing tools (66 typewriters, plus a huge ’90s Brother Word Processor) and I can confirm that the Alphasmart is indeed swell. So swell I have five of them. You get spoiled by computers and forget that these simpler tools even exist, but they come in handy in the park or when the power company cuts you off for non-payment of service. It has an almost full-size keyboard that’s clickier than the usual laptop, it runs on 3 AA batteries that last forever, and the internal memory holds about 100 pages of text. It’s transferred easily (if a bit slowly) by opening a folder (there are 8 different ones, I think), hooking a USB printer cable to your PC, opening any word processing program, and hitting the SEND key. It’s very similar to the Hemingwrite/Freewrite unit, except that it’s not wi-fi and is much cheaper. Eight spidery thumbs up!

    • Bryan

      Woo spidery thumbs!

  • Thomas Diehl

    Technically, I am right in the transitional phase from Gen X to Millenials, so I lived through the change. Growing up with typewriters, tapes and records to see them replaced by computers, Netflix, and MP3s during my teenage years, I guess it is all this new media available now. In a few short years, our options exploded in diversity and became infinitely more accessible.
    On the other hand, I know a lot of people in the age range mentioned and most of them love to read. I mean, obviously you have your Harry Potters and Hunger Games, both series of pretty long books no less. So maybe, they do not read less books than generations before them, they just read less in 2015 because it’s not as good a year in literature (for them) as 2014 or 2013 was.
    BTW, summer vacation is an American thing. In europe, we have several shorter breaks throughout the year. I think this applies to the UK, where this survey was done, as well.

    • Bryan

      Great point on literature having a down year in 2015.

  • One reason might be that Millennials are typically into social activism, and they are frequently interested in supporting brands that they believe in and that give back. Maybe most ebook authors don’t appeal to these inclinations of Millennials, and thereby they don’t sell as well to them.

    • Bryan

      Well, how do we give back as indies?

      • Maybe an author can increase their sales to Millennials through indirect marketing techniques – COUGH – I mean volunteer activities, and then by blogging about them.

  • Raphyel M. Jordan

    While e-books seem to be the new way to read, maybe Millennials are finding other various means that we may have yet to realize and comprehend. For example, I’ve been writing YA for five years, and have attended a writing seminar for three of them. Of the 200 attendees there, only five of us had heard about Wattpad before this year!

    The options for reading and other forms of entertainment are changing so quickly, maybe we shouldn’t be concerned as to why younger people do not appear to be reading ebooks, as we should be more inclined to find out HOW they are reading. Readers are still out there for certain. It’s just a matter of learning how they tickle their fancy.

    • Bryan

      Wow, only 5?! That’s crazy. More people should be listening to our show ;).

      • Raphyel M. Jordan

        I know, right?! I’m working on getting you more converts as we spea— I mean, type ;).

        • Bryan

          Good work :).

  • Sheenah Freitas

    As a millennial I can say that we’re just too busy and we read. A lot. Maybe more than previous generations. Comments, articles, texts, etc. all add up!

    We’re either busy getting through exams and graduating high school or the ones that are still in college/graduated from college have to juggle a billion jobs just to pay off student loans, college tuition, rent, food, etc.

    I know a lot of my friends still read books. They just don’t have an ereader because a) it either doesn’t appeal to them or b) they don’t have a reason to get one. If they do read something online, it might be fanfiction from a website or original fiction from another website or someone sent them a document/PDF to read or they’re in forums writing/reading someone’s work or interacting in roleplaying… So by the end of the day, more reading isn’t relaxing (entertainment, yes, relaxing, no). Relaxing is turning the brain off and playing a video game that doesn’t require a lot of reading or watching a movie/TV show/something on YouTube or listening to music

    And even though I write and have other indie writer friends, I actually haven’t read a lot of their work because I don’t have an ereader myself and I don’t want to stare at yet another super bright screen and strain my eyes during the evening. I do occasionally read on my iPad, but I haven’t been able to fit a Kindle into my budget yet.

    • Bryan

      Ah, I remember those days well :). Thanks, Sheenah.

  • As far as teenagers are concerned, a kindle looks very dull compared to a phone. My daughter would rather read a book from wattpad on her tiny phone screen than use her kindle. One of her friends has written a novel on wattpad. Kids read and write a huge amount these days, but Amazon need to make kindles more fun – brighter, sleeker, more interactive. At the moment, kindles look like they were designed by a middle-aged accountant.

    • Yep. It’s like carrying a sign that says “nerd alert!” with you.

      If Apple reaches out to that generation, then look out. If the author equivalent of U2 (but for that generation) put their next big book on every iPhone, free, then look out!

    • Patrick Stemp

      I thing the market for dedicated e-readers is going to crash if it isn’t happening already. I haven’t touched either my KOBO or Kindle since I got a phone with a bigger screen and a tablet with the apps. They’re trying to add stuff to the more expensive e-readers to make them more “tablet like” but ultimately, I think they’ll fail.

      KOBO especially would do well to focus more energy on the app and their storefront. Their desktop app and storefront feel several generations behind Amazon, which is the best example of “click to buy”. They make it addictive and easy.

      Amazon Allowance is a really great idea as well. I might make use of that this summer.

      • Bryan

        Ooh, what’s Amazon Allowance?

        • Patrick Stemp

          Amazon Allowance is a timed auto-reloading gift card for your kids. You can set it to load a set amount monthly and give your kids a budget. Better than putting your credit card info on their account, where they could spend freely and rack up more than you wanted to spend. They can spend the money on whatever they want, but you could tell them it’s for books only I suppose.

        • Patrick Stemp

          Posting the link separately from my comment in case it goes into spam land: https://www.amazon.com/gp/payphrase/claim/allowance.html

          • Bryan


      • I keep my kindle charged up for reading outside, but these days I just find shade and use my phone, rather than lug that thing around. I took it with me to bulgaria because of the battery life, but didn’t turn it on once, since usb charging on phones is fairly universal now and I had one of those battery sticks in my backpack, just in case.

    • Bryan

      Here’s the big question though. Will that preference continue when the Millennials age up to the next demo?

      • I think by that point, something new will come along. There are probably a hundred startups desperately trying to get a great new device to market. I’m sure there’s a gap in the market for a cool and stylish ereader.

  • Patrick Stemp

    Went to the source, my two teenage girls. First, e-books cost money, versus going to the library. You also don’t have to recharge a paper book, and they like getting away from their devices for some quiet time sometimes. When asked if they could have 50 books, if they’d want them physical or digital, they both picked physical. So they can see them on the shelf, and because they’re less likely to be stolen (if the tablet was stolen ALL the books would be gone). And, they “just don’t like it” compared to a physical book. Maybe because most kids reading digitally are on tablets and phones with bright screens that don’t have the paperwhite feel of an actual e-reader.

    • Bryan

      I still haven’t done it yet, but I’d like to run a FB ad campaign to the younger demo trying to pitch paperbacks.

  • Eddie Jakes

    Me and my friends are in our late 30’s/early 40’s. Most of my friends have kids (full disclosure: I have none.) and I’ve notice that a lot of them have the mentality that if it wasn’t there when they were kids then it must be a bad thing. A lot of the times they aren’t consistent in this ideology either. They would love it if their kids read more but if it’s on a tablet or e-reader (or any electronic device) it just doesn’t count for some strange reason. If I had a kindle when I was younger and had more free time, I would have read 10’s of thousands of books and stories. I’ve always loved reading but hated physical books which would bother my wrists after hours of reading, and I used to be a binge reader.

    • Bryan

      Interesting, Eddie. Yeah, definitely inconsistent. I’m sure their kids wouldn’t enjoy walking around with brick-sized phones attached to their ears :).

    • I think they are skeptical about whether the kids are ACTUALLY just reading, probably based on their own personal experience. I’m sure most of them (and us) have also read on a phone or tablet, only to find that they periodically switch to email, facebook, or some game.

      It took my wife a while to stop giving me shit for ‘playing’ on my phone when I was legitimately reading books. …mostly. 😉

  • Andrew Knighton

    Treating young people from sixteen to their mid-twenties, or whatever the group for the survey was, as a single group is daft – that’s a hugely transformative part of life, and people’s reading habits may be completely different from the start to the end.

    Up until I was about sixteen or seventeen, I read huge amounts but bought very few books, because I didn’t have much money and wanted to spend it on other things. So I borrowed from my dad, my friends, local libraries, anywhere I could my filthy paws on other people’s books. I’d ask for books for birthdays and Christmas, but that still wasn’t me buying them.

    From eighteen onwards I read hardly anything for half a decade. I was away from home, I had money, and I’d finally found a large group of people who shared my interests. My time went on socialising and nerdy hobbies, my money went on getting smashed, going out clubbing and nerdy hobbies.

    In between was an awkward phase where I didn’t have much money to get smashed and go clubbing, so I still got some reading in.

    I don’t imagine for a minute that everybody goes through the same stuff at that age, but everybody goes through huge changes, and trying to understand that group of people as one big blob shows a weakness either in the way the survey was planned or the way the results have been reported. Unless the point was to write an attention grabbing headline – which is a big part of what these consulting companies conduct surveys for – in which case well done survey people, have a biscuit, but not one with chocolate chips because you haven’t earned the good stuff.

    • Bryan

      See, that’s a great point. Even when I was talking about myself as a Millennial, I divided into 16-21 and 21-24. Really they should split those numbers.

    • Great points. My daughter shares books with her mom and her friends because she’s broke. She asks for books as gifts, plus gift cards to book stores, etc.

      I went through similar phases in my own life. My mom and step dad were English Majors and teachers, so we had all the ‘classics’ on the shelves. When I ran out of good books, I’d read those. 😉

      My step dad also worked part time at B Dalton, and he brought in ‘stripped books’ for me to read before they got trashed. FYI, stripped books are the returns to publishers. They tear off the covers and return only the covers, trashing the rest. I’m not sure if that’s still what they do today.

      Once these wells dried up, I had to buy my own books, which meant used book stores and pooling books with friends. At least if meant a variety!

      • Andrew Knighton

        I had access to something similar to stripped books one summer when I was working at a book warehouse. They tore the back covers off damaged books and let the staff take them for free. I built up a huge pile of things I never read, just because I could. Happy days.

        That was also the first time I heard of Amazon, which at that point was still relatively new, but was already the biggest source of business for that warehouse.

  • Margarita Morris

    I have two boys, aged 15 and 11. The eldest has always been an avid reader from a very young age. The youngest needs a little more encouragement but he does read. However, they read paperbacks because neither of them owns an ereader. In families with more than one child it makes sense to buy paperbacks because then they get handed down (like clothes!) If left to their own devices, children will spend as much time as possible in front of a screen. In our house we have agreed set times for screen usage, whether that’s the computer, the playstation or the television. If our youngest child is reluctant to try a new book then either I or my husband will sit and read it with him, not out loud, but just sitting side by side and turning the pages when he’s ready. It helps to keep him focused and reading becomes an enjoyable child/parent time together. He quickly loses interest in a book if he thinks that not much is happening. As an 11 year old boy he likes there to be some action on every page. But when he finds a book that holds his interest then he devours it. Generally, it helps children to become readers if their parents also read. Children learn by example.

  • I think kids consume/read more than ever. The difficulty is that they consumption doesn’t mean connection.

    1) One challenge I’ve had specifically with YA and NA readers, is that they don’t have their own Kindle accounts. So, even though they want to buy stuff, they don’t have easy access unless they use their parent’s account (let alone write reviews). Amazon would be wise to allow parents to setup sub-accounts for their children with spending limits, allowing them to purchase/review/connect with books online.

    2) Most kids know a lot of places to get stuff for free as well. Many don’t feel the need to buy things because they’ve grown up without having to.

    3) Most children are distracted by the influx of media/games that its harder for them to feel connected to entertainment unless its some part of social movement (Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight).

  • I thought I left a post, but it didn’t show up. Short answer, kids consume/read more, but don’t connect to material because they are inundated by media/games. Needs to be a big social movement (Hunger Games, Twilight) for kids to make that connection. Plus, many have grown up knowing where to get entertainment for free, including books. My kids consume a lot of material on free sites like YouTube that aren’t tracked by anybody.

    Many YAs don’t have their own accounts on Amazon. Amazon would be wise to allow parents to make sub-accounts for their children with spending limits so they can find/buy/connect/review with material.

    Finally, thanks Brian for participating in the bet. It was fun. 🙂 I read Ted Saves the World over my vacation. Enjoyed it!

  • I’m a little late to the party on this one. I alternate between listening to audiobooks and catching up on my podcasts.

    Kids today don’t have any time to read? I have to respectfully disagree with Jim on this one. It definitely sounds like your kids are overprogrammed – straight from school, to afterschool activities, to sports, and to a late supper and bed. I think that’s too much. But even so, you have spoken more than ones about them watching movies or binge-watching Netflix. If they have time to watch movies or Netflix, they have time to read. They just don’t have the inclination to do so. When I was a teen, my friends wanted to know when I had time to read and write, because they didn’t have any spare time at all. Yet they had hours every night to watch TV and wondered why I had no idea what was happening in the popular shows.

    I work a full time job, commute, write and publish, homeschool, am in charge of my church’s women’s ministry, cook everything from scratch due to our multiple allergies, run and bike, and I still have time to read. I will always find a way to fit reading into my schedule, whether it is while standing in line at the grocery store reading off of the Kindle app on my phone, or listening to an audiobook while cooking, cleaning, running, or riding.

    Parents have some influence over whether their kids read or not, but like anything else, they can’t really control it. Kids come with different personalities, interests, inclinations, and brain development. I have always been an avid reader, and I always assumed that any of my kids would be as well. As it turns out, we were only able to have one (adopted) and he is not a reader. Yes, I read to him from the time he was born. We had many hours of cuddling and reading, with dozens of picture books (mostly from the library) before bed. As he got older, the books got longer. Yes, I have read the entire Harry Potter series out loud several times over. When book seven came out, we actually had one day where I read for seven hours straight, pausing only for bathroom breaks, food, or to blow my nose and wipe my tears in order to continue.

    My kiddo loves stories, but he has significant learning disabilities, and he has no desire to read books himself. Computer games, texting, and instant messaging apps have been a boon in improving his spelling/writing and reading ability. He may not like writing four sentences for schoolwork, but he’ll happily type away on his computer or phone with his friends for hours.

    He recently told me how he misses me reading to him, but he doesn’t have the time to sit with me and read anymore. (Of course he does, he just chooses to do other things. As a teenager, it’s his job to separate from mom and become an independent person.) But he wondered if he could download an app onto his phone that would read books for him while he’s gaming with his friends or watching Vines. I installed Overdrive and downloaded Maze Runner for him. Is he buying ebooks? No, but he is reading a novel independently for the first time, and enjoying it.

    Millennials book buying patterns?
    – They are borrowing dead tree books from the library
    – Their parents are buying them books
    – Their parents are buying/sharing ebooks with them
    – They are reading for free on Wattpad (38% of my readers on Wattpad are 13-18 years old and 35% have not revealed their ages. Only 16% of the visitors to my website are 13-18.)

    Millennials are reading. They just aren’t buying ebooks.

    • Bryan

      Really great points on this PD. Thanks!