No, Books Should Not Tell You How Long It Will Take To Read Them
Dennis Abrams has a post over on Publishing Perspectives that asks a question that I would like to answer:
…Should books then come with a label telling you how long it should take to read them?
Reddit co-founder Alexi Ohanian thinks that books should tell you how long they will take to read as well. His forthcoming book, Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made Not Managed (Business Plus), has a small mark on the back cover, indicating that the book is a “5-hour read,” equaling the approximate time it takes to fly from San Francisco to New York City. In a picture of the cover that Ohanian posted on imgur, he added, “Hope this becomes a trend — I believe we’re the first book to do it, yes?”
In a word: No.
The idea of an estimated reading time has so many inherent assumptions that any resulting estimate is rendered meaningless.
Before you can create a time estimate you must assume that:
- Everyone reads at the same speed.
- Everyone reads at the same skill level.
- Everyone reads the same type of content.
- Everyone reads with the same technique.
The first is obviously not true, so I’ll skip it. As for the second, I’m sure you know that not everyone has the same reading skills. It’s not just that reading skill levels vary, but also that a reader can process a book faster if they are familiar with the topic and or language. For example, a book related to a reader’s profession or hobbies will be an easier read than a book on a completely unrelated topic.
And when it comes to content, I know from my own experience that I read fiction differently from nonfiction. I also know that I read different types of fiction at different speeds and that background noises can affect my reading speed. And I am sure I am not alone in that.
And finally, an estimated reading time mostly useless because it assumes that the reader will proceed in a linear fashion. I don’t always read a fiction book linearly (without skipping around), and I never read a nonfiction book from beginning to end.
I almost always jump around inside a nonfiction book. I might read a section because it has covers a topic I am researching, or I might read it because it contains an instance of a keyword. But I almost never start at the beginning and continue to the end. And if I did, chances are I would restart the current chapter/section each time I picked up the ebook. This would help me remember what I had read putting the ebook down, and it would invalidate the time estimate.
Frankly, I am puzzled that anyone would suggest that an estimated reading time would be useful, much less put that time on their own book. Does that author really never user the index in the back of a book? Hasn’t that author ever used a search function in a reading app?
Surely I am not the only one who reads in a non-linear fashion. Am I?
What do you think?