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Should Books Tell You How Long They Will Take to Read?

If a 300-page book indicated it would take 10 hours to read, would that change your mind about reading it?

By Edward Nawotka

man reading a bookToday’s feature story looks at the Delay App, which asks readers to indicated the amount of time they would like to read and, in turn, the app offers them selections that can be read during that period. It’s an intriguing premise, one that assumes all people read at the same pace. That said, it’s not entirely new. Several websites have experimented over the years with indicating at the top of an article how long it might take to read. Longreads, in particular, maintains the practice.

Do you think this practice is useful? Would putting the estimated number of hours it would take a reader to finish a book right there on the jacket be a good marketing tool?

I suspect it might put readers off. In my previous experience with the web sites indicating the amount of time it would take to read an article, I found myself clicking away if the article was of only marginal interest (which is about 90% of what I read online) and looked to be too long. Books — if they told you that, provided an average reading pace of a page every two minutes — would likely take you ten hours for a 300-page book, it might just be enough to put you off reading it.

That said there are times when I really do like knowing just how long it will take me to read something. A play, for example, is an ideal way to spend the night: I knew it will take me between two and three hours from start to finish. It’s a comfort to know that I can have a “complete reading experience” in the particular allotted amount of time. Poetry, even better. A page or two takes five minutes max (I read poetry slowly). Even books with short chapters help, because I know I can gauge my progress; books with long chapters sometimes feel to me like I’m digging a pit in the sand where the sides keep falling in.

Sadly, this likely say more about how many mediocre, less-than-engaging books I find myself reading than anything else.

Let us know what you think in the comments?

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9 Comments

  1. sarah bourne
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    I have to agree with you – I read a lot, but if I knew how long a book was suposed to take to read, even if just an estimate, I’d keep watching the clock rather than immersing myself in the story. And that would deprive me of the reason I read – to get away from real time and into story time.

  2. Vincent
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    If you have to told how long it will take to read a book; should you be allowed outside unsupervised?

  3. Kelvin Smith
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    At least ten years ago Air France in-flight magazine used to add “how long to read” detail to their little book reviews. I though it was a hilarious idea at the time.

  4. Michael Erard
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I like the idea, especially if it led to pricing decisions, along the lines I laid out a couple of years ago in this piece for Design Observer: http://observatory.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=10297:

    I imagine attention-based pricing, in which prices of information commodities are inversely adjusted to the cognitive investment of consuming them. All the candy for the human brain — haiku, ringtones, bumper stickers — would be priced like the luxuries that they are. Things requiring longer attention spans would be cheaper — they might even be free, and the higher fixed costs of producing them would be covered by the higher sales of the short attention span products. Single TV episodes would be more expensive to purchase than whole seasons, in the same way that a six-pack of Oreos at the gas station is more expensive, per cookie, than a whole tray at the grocery store.

  5. Lisa
    Posted June 26, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Don’t we, as readers, have a pretty good idea of how long it will take us to read something? When I pick up a book I do tend to glance at the number of pages and font size. I know that every 100 pages is going to add about 1 1/2 hours.
    Also, making the assumption that people read at the same pace does not make sense. I am a fast reader, but I slow down depending on the type of reading material and whether I am reading for pleasure, business or to learn something. How then does a random time guess help me?
    As a children’s librarian I have to say that sharing this information with kids would not help foster reading. Saying that something will take an hour is like a prison sentence. Why not let them find the joy of being lost in a book and having time slip away?

  6. Posted June 26, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps it might work for people who want to pass the time, but for people who want to read? Not so much.

  7. Posted June 28, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    It’s a bad idea. Much like the books written in disappearing ink. Everybody reads at differing speeds. And I don’t like to pay attention to the clock when I’m reading a good book.

  8. Posted June 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that people who want to know how long it will take to read a book don’t really flip those pages for the enjoyment of it, but the be over with the whole “process.” I like to see the number of pages displayed, when I order a book, but only so I’ll know what to expect – if I saw a number of hours instead, now >that< would turn me off. It just sounds so wrong.

  9. Carolina
    Posted June 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Irrelevant. If the book is good, you do not mind at all how long it will take to read it. I have read and re-read Don Quijote and War and Peace I do not know how many times. And if the book is bad, I do not have any time for it.

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