It’s confirmed: Our Kids are Being Turned into Heroin Junkies

One of the advantages of tabletop gaming is that you are a) required to interact with other humans in person when playing a multi-player game and b) looking at something that is not a screen, does not change upon command, and does not have a universe’s worth of information on it. As someone who has played at least 10,000 hours of video gaming, I know just how fun-and addicting-games can be. Even now, as I try to work to a schedule and get a lot done with my internet access (blog posts, social media, writing books, answering e-mail, working on some game concepts) it’s FREAKING HARD not to want to get the answer to a question or to want to know what’s going on in the outside world.

The fact is, nearly all of us are now carry symptoms of ADHD (which includes those of us to either have ADD or ADHD or suffer from recognized neurological disorders that go along with ADHD and OCD), especially around electronic devises. We are now obsessed with what the internet has given us. This weekend, I spoke to some incredible people at TempleCon and I’m going to share their thoughts with you, because it made me stop to think. My one regret was not being able to record these talks, because we should all be thinking about the issues discussed. Specifically, we talked about technology and its benefits/ negatives.

Anyways, as I’ve said before, there is going to be a serious problem in this country if people are turning away from reading and social activities and instead become slaves to their smartphones, eagerly awaiting the next social media like or approval from strangers. Yes, kids prefer print to e-books, and yes, the tabletop industry has grown 7 consecutive years and was worth about $850 as of 2015. But the total video game market is $100 BILLION and that’s mostly electronic games.

So here to confirm what Captain Friedman has been saying, is the mainstream media. Normally I’d clip the article, but this is so good that I’m reposting the entire thing, including the original link:

http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/

 

It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies

Susan* bought her 6-year-old son John an iPad when he was in first grade. “I thought ‘why not let him get a jump on things?’ ” she told me during a therapy session. John’s school had begun using the devices with younger and younger grades—and his technology teacher had raved about their educational benefits—so Susan wanted to do what was best for her sandy-haired boy who loved reading and playing baseball.

She started letting John play different educational games on his iPad. Eventually, he discovered Minecraft, which the technology teacher assured her was “just like electronic Lego.” Remembering how much fun she had as a child building and playing with the interlocking plastic blocks, Susan let her son Minecraft his afternoons away.

Still, Susan couldn’t deny she was seeing changes in John. He started getting more and more focused on his game and losing interest in baseball and reading while refusing to do his chores. Some mornings he would wake up and tell her that he could see the cube shapes in his dreams.At first, Susan was quite pleased. John seemed engaged in creative play as he explored the cube-world of the game. She did notice that the game wasn’t quite like the Legos that she remembered—after all, she didn’t have to kill animals and find rare minerals to survive and get to the next level with her beloved old game. But John did seem to really like playing and the school even had a Minecraft club, so how bad could it be?

Although that concerned her, she thought her son might just be exhibiting an active imagination. As his behavior continued to deteriorate, she tried to take the game away but John threw temper tantrums. His outbursts were so severe that she gave in, still rationalizing to herself over and over again that “it’s educational.”

Then, one night, she realized that something was seriously wrong.

“I walked into his room to check on him. He was supposed to be sleeping—and I was just so frightened…”

We now know that those iPads, smart phones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug.

She found him sitting up in his bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad lay next to him. He seemed to be in a trance. Beside herself with panic, Susan had to shake the boy repeatedly to snap him out of it. Distraught, she could not understand how her once-healthy and happy little boy had become so addicted to the game that he wound up in a catatonic stupor.

There’s a reason that the most tech-cautious parents are tech designers and engineers. Steve Jobs was a notoriously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children that become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.

But it’s even worse than we think.

We now know that those iPads, smart phones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex—which controls executive functioning, including impulse control—in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels—the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic—as much as sex.

This addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, Director of Neuroscience at UCLA calls screens “electronic cocaine” and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.” In fact, Dr. Andrew Doan, the Head of Addiction Research for the Pentagon and the U.S. Navy—who has been researching video game addiction—calls video games and screen technologies “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug).

That’s right—your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs. No wonder we have a hard time peeling kids from their screens and find our little ones agitated when their screen time is interrupted. In addition, hundreds of clinical studies show that screens increase depression, anxiety, and aggression and can even lead to psychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality.

In my clinical work with over a 1,000 teens over the past 15 years, I have found the old axiom of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” to be especially true when it comes to tech addiction. Once a kid has crossed the line into true tech addiction, treatment can be very difficult. Indeed, I have found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts.

That’s right—your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs.

According to a 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 8- to 10 year-olds spend 8 hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. One in three kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can talk. Meanwhile, the handbook of “Internet Addiction” by Dr. Kimberly Young states that 18 percent of college-age internet users in the U.S. suffer from tech addiction.

Once a person crosses over the line into full-blown addiction — drug, digital or otherwise — they need to detox before any other kind of therapy can have any chance of being effective. With tech, that means a full digital detox—no computers, no smartphones, no tablets. The extreme digital detox even eliminates television. The prescribed amount of time is four to six weeks; that’s the amount of time that is usually required for a hyper-aroused nervous system to reset itself. But that’s no easy task in our current tech-filled society where screens are ubiquitous. A person can live without drugs or alcohol; with tech addiction, digital temptations are everywhere.

So how do we keep our children from crossing this line? It’s not easy.

The key is to prevent your 4, 5 or 8-year-old from getting hooked on screens to begin with. That means Lego instead of Minecraft; books instead of iPads; nature and sports instead of TV. If you have to, demand that your child’s school not give them a tablet or Chromebook until they are at least 10 years old (others recommend 12).

Have honest discussions with your child about why you are limiting their screen access. Eat dinner with your children without any electronic devices at the table—just as Steve Jobs used to have tech-free dinners with his kids. Don’t fall victim to “Distracted Parent Syndrome” —as we know from Social Learning Theory, “monkey see, monkey do.”

When I speak to my 9-year-old twin boys, I have honest conversations with them about why we don’t want them having tablets or playing video games. I explain to them that some kids like playing with their devices so much, that they have a hard time stopping or controlling how much they play. I’ve helped them to understand that if they get caught up with screens and Minecraft like some of their friends have, that other parts of their lives may suffer: they may not want to play baseball as much; not read books as often; be less interested in science and nature projects; become more disconnected from their real-world friends. Amazingly, they don’t need much convincing as they’ve seen first-hand the changes that some of their little friends have undergone as a result of their excessive screen time.

Modal Trigger

Developmental psychologists understand that children’s healthy development involves social interaction, creative imaginative play and an engagement with the real, natural world. Unfortunately, the immersive and addictive world of screens dampens and stunts those developmental processes.

We also know that kids are more prone to addictive escape if they feel alone, alienated, purposeless and bored. Thus the solution is often to help kids to connect to meaningful real life experiences and flesh and blood relationships. The engaged child tethered to creative activities and connected to his or her family is less likely to escape into the digital fantasy world. Yet even if a child has the best and most loving support, he or she could fall into the Matrix once they engage with hypnotic screens and experience their addicting effect. After all, about one in 10 people are predisposed towards addictive tendencies.

In the end, my client Susan removed John’s tablet, but recovery was an uphill battle with many bumps and setbacks along the way.

Four years later, after much support and reinforcement, John is doing much better today. He has learned to use a desktop computer in a healthier way, and has gotten some sense of balance back in his life: he’s playing on a baseball team and has several close friends in his middle school. But his mother is still vigilant and remains a positive and proactive force with his tech usage because, as with any addiction, relapse can sneak up in moments of weakness. Making sure that he has healthy outlets, no computer in his bedroom and a nightly tech-free dinner at the dinner table are all part of the solution.

I’ve seen this everywhere: Parents, particularly both single-parent homes and where both parents work, provide the child with an electronic device to keep him/her busy while Mommy and Daddy work. The problem is, the device provides the unsuspecting child with all kinds of stimuli that trigger strong feelings of attachment to the device. Soon the child is obsessed with getting stimulated by the games, and the parents begin to wonder why their child loses interest in sports and playtime. The obvious thing is, if you cannot take time off to be with your child, is to routinely replace the electronics with books, puzzles, board games (or card games) or some other simply, non-electronic hobby. Yet this kind of common-sense is lacking in our society, among other things that are seriously wrong. We need to get away from the obsessive nature of the internet and return to our roots- recognizing that while our ancestors did live short and rather horrible lives, they did at least not have to worry about what someone in the next village over said about them on Facebook.

 

7 Reasons for Children to Spend Time Reading Instead of Gaming

philareads.org

This is a guest post from Cassie at Culture Coverage. She asks the question: Why should kids spend more time reading than Video Gaming? Here’s her article:

I would like to thank Sam Ramirez Friedman for sharing this article on his website. He’s helped many authors and potential authors learn about the publishing process, and I’d especially like to recommend his tips on Kickstarter and Wattpad.

Since video games first became popular people have been having heated debates about whether children should or shouldn’t spend hours playing them. While there are excellent arguments both for and against letting children play video games, one thing is certain: reading has more benefits than playing video games.

  1. Reading Improves Academic Performance

For decades parents have been telling their children to read more to improve their school grades, and it turns out that they’ve been right all along. Reading has been shown to improve children’s overall academic performance, as well as their performance in specific areas such as vocabulary, math, reasoning and long-term memory skills. That isn’t to say that playing video games doesn’t have any benefits, but in terms of academic performance, the benefits of reading far outweigh the benefits of playing video games.

  1. Reading Develops Imagination

When children play video games, they don’t need to imagine what things look or sound like as everything is on the screen in front of them. However, not all books have pictures, and none have sounds, so children need to use their imaginations to bring the story to life. Even picture books only depict certain scenes, so children still need to use their imaginations to a large degree. While graphic novels have more pictures than normal books, they still require imagination, and they’re an excellent way to introduce children to reading. Books also encourage children to imagine other things that video games don’t, such as smells and tastes.

  1. Reading Enhances Communication Skills

Communication skills are vital to children’s social development, and reading is an easy way to help children improve these skills. When children read they need to pay attention and comprehend what they’re reading, and both of these activities are essential for effective communication. Children who read books also have better vocabularies and phonology skills than children who don’t spend time reading books.

  1. Reading Reduces Screen Time

It’s undeniable that many children spend way too much of their time in front of screens of some sort. From television to computers to smartphones, children may spend hours each day staring blankly at a screen. Encouraging children to read books dramatically reduces the time they spend watching screens. There is one caveat though: many children prefer to read on e-readers. Nevertheless, reading a book on an e-reader is still reading, so it’s better to let children read books on an e-reader than have them not read at all.

  1. Reading Leads to Better Sleep

Everyone needs to get enough sleep to function well, and this is especially true of children. Many video games are fast-paced and frenetic, which may overstimulate children before bedtime. This will make it much harder for them to fall asleep and also disrupt the sleep they do get. Screens also give off a lot of blue light that can disrupt circadian rhythms at night. Reading a book may be exciting, but it certainly won’t provide as much stimulation as a video game. So, reading is a fun and healthy way for children to relax before bed.

  1. Reading Provides Delayed Gratification

Video games are usually fast paced and provide immediate gratification, whereas books require patience and time to finish. This teaches children about delayed gratification, which helps them understand that many things are worth waiting for and take time and patience to attain. The ability to delay gratification is one of the most important skills that children will ever learn, as it leads to greater success in school and later life.

  1. Reading is Safer

Many of the most popular video games are multiplayer online games, and this means children may interact with anonymous strangers who could be dangerous. Unfortunately, some child predators use multiplayer online games to contact children. If children do play multiplayer video games online, it’s important for parents to supervise them. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to hide children’s personal information also helps to keep them safe. Thankfully, books don’t pose this problem and parents can let their children read unsupervised.

Clearly, there are many reasons why every child should put down their video game controller and pick up a book, so tell us about any we’ve missed by posting a comment below.

About the Author: Cassie is a writer and entertainment blogger who is a self-confessed bibliophile. She hopes this post will inspire you to encourage your children to spend more time reading. She can be reached at cassie@culturecoverage.com

Do readers prefer longer or shorter books?

Big pile of books

I saw this article from The Guardian:

Books are steadily increasing in size, according to a survey that has found the average number of pages has grown by 25% over the last 15 years.

A study of more than 2,500 books appearing on New York Times bestseller and notable books lists and Google’s annual survey of the most discussed books reveals that the average length has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 pages in 2014.

According to James Finlayson from Vervesearch, who carried out the survey for the interactive publisher Flipsnack, there’s a “relatively consistent pattern of growth year on year” that has added approximately 80 pages to the average size of the books surveyed since 1999.

The literary agent Clare Alexander agrees that long books are more portable in electronic formats, but points out that much ebook reading is focused on genres such as romance, crime and erotica. For Alexander, the gradual increase in size is evidence of a cultural shift.

“Despite all the talk of the death of the book because of competition from other media,” she says, “people who love to read appear to prefer a long and immersive narrative, the very opposite of a sound bite or snippets of information that we all spend our lives downloading from Google.

This would have surprised me. All along I’ve been told short stories are back in style because of declining attention spans and people reading from their phones, on smaller screens unlikely to be suitable for a 500 page turner. Therefore, the argument goes, quit writing those 300 page stories and instead sell 15-40 page short stories at 99 cents a pop.

But longer stories also sell better, according to Mark Coker at Smashwords:

Longer books sell better than shorter books.  This finding is consistent with each of the prior year’s surveys, though as I mention in the presentation, this year’s finding comes with a lot more caveats.  In a nutshell, I suspect the rise of multi-author box sets, often at deep discount prices, is probably throwing off the data this year, and as I discuss in the presentation, some of the dynamics will cause it to understate impact of longer books and some will cause it to overstate it.

I think this is what’s happening: Casual readers who would rather watch TV or play video games prefer shorter works, because they can finish a book or short story in an hour or less and feel like they read something to completion. But passionate readers prefer a story they can connect to, and more often than not shorter works don’t do that in fiction. Now that doesn’t mean shorter is worse: Animal Farm, The Notebook, The Alchemist, The Old Man and the Sea, MacBeth, are all examples of shorter works which told stories most readers still remember today. Animal Farm and The Alchemist are considered among the best fiction works ever written. That said, some of the best-selling works are longer and it does mean I believe a well-written story is more important than a short one, even if some are emphasizing shorter over quality.

As readers, do you prefer shorter or longer works?

 

 

 

The decline in serious reading continues thanks to profiteering

hooked app

The Atlantic points out what we’ve known for a long time: Many students graduate unable to write coherent sentences or make a logical argument using writing. After all, why write when you can just text or Snap?

“In “The Writing Revolution,” Peg Tyre traces the problems at one troubled New York high school to a simple fact: The students couldn’t write coherent sentences. In 2009 New Dorp High made a radical change. Instead of trying to engage students through memoir exercises and creative assignments, the school required them to write expository essays and learn the fundamentals of grammar. Within two years, the school’s pass rates for the English Regents test and the global-history exam were soaring. The school’s drop-out rate — 40 percent in 2006 — has fallen to 20 percent.

The experiment suggests that the trend toward teaching creative writing was hurting American students. In a debate about Tyre’s story, we asked a range of experts, from policymakers to Freedom Writers founder Erin Gruwell, to share their thoughts on Tyre’s story.

So we can all safely agree that a lot of children are simply not writing well enough to function in the workplace. We don’t mean write fiction novels; we mean do enough to hold a good-paying job.

So we would assume the solution is for businesspeople to take a chance on returning us to learning the basics, right?

Nope.

New app offers ‘books for the Snapchat generation’

“Umm…why do u have Claires phone?”

“Well if u must know i sat down on this park bench to read”

“And sat right on someone’s phone. Claire’s I’m guessing”

“What r u reading?”

That’s an excerpt from a book meant to be read on an iPhone or Apple Watch. It’s available on an app that launched this week called Hooked.

Prerna Gupta describes her app as “books for the Snapchat generation.”

Hooked will feature short fiction for young-adult readers. Gupta said that 80% of young-adult novels are read digitally. So the teen-set seemed like the most natural audience.

Each book will be roughly 1,000 words and is designed to be read in about five minutes. The stories will be told entirely through dialogue and read like texts. Messages show up on screen when readers click “Next.”

“Epistolary literature is nothing new,” she said. “Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ is one of my favorite books and the story is told entirely through letters.”

Gupta, who envisions the app as being like “Twitter for fiction,” turned to some of the top MFA programs to recruit alumni writers.

“We listed that we had paid creative writing opportunities and the response was overwhelming,” Gupta said.

While she wouldn’t disclose actual figures, Gupta said pay varied by story but was very “competitive.”

Initially, the app will only feature content from screened contributors. However, eventually users will be able to submit content of their own.

The app is free to download and features one free story a day. Readers can unlock more stories with the subscription service. A week of unlimited stories costs $2.99. A month is $7.99 and a year is $39.99.

There are currently over 200 stories and Gupta said they add more every day.

Stories are broken into categories such as “Dark & Stormy,” “Primal Terror,” and “Love as Deep.” There’s even a section called “Telepathic” that is “hand-picked” by Hooked editors to “blow ur mind.”

If you were able to stop pounding your computer in anger at the sleaziness of this app, then you should take note: sorry, improving literacy is NOT THE GOAL of these business ventures. Pandering to people’s already-short attention spans is not going to make kids smarter. I don’t think too many of us think the problem is that we have TOO MUCH serious thinking in this world.

There is no such thing as a 1,000 word “book.” Even flash fiction, the shortest form of long-form fiction there is, is 1,200 word limit. It’s okay to promote short stories, but you not get any meaningful text if you write a cell phone-style story.

Think about the last time you read a deep, profound fiction story in less than 1,000 words. The kind of story which makes you think. Yeah, I can’t either. If you want to Tweet a flash fiction piece, go right ahead. There’s nothing wrong with it. But these people ought not to act as though they are contributing to improved literacy.

What this appears to be is rich people preying on poor, aspiring writers by promising them what the internet generally will not do for them-pay them for their work. Toss up work you can write in 5 minutes, and you will get paid for it. Who among you wouldn’t take that offer? Unfortunately, you will end up so desperate to make any money you will do what you have to do to get attention, even if that means writing nonsense for the occasional money, distracting you from focusing on more serious efforts. What, you thought you’d rake in six figures writing flash fiction?

This is how Silk Road merchants made so much money: whoever controls the distribution controls everything. How else do you think social media companies make so much money without providing any content? Because they are great at getting you to give away your content for free, because they convince your customers that anything you write or post has no value at all. If you don’t agree to give away everything for free, customers will just go with whoever will. Essentially, you have no choice, whether you want to or not.*

*disclosure. Many people’s thoughts really ARE worth nothing. Ouch.

They then go to people uninterested in reading and, rather than promote a way to encourage learning, they seek to make a profit off exploiting people. This is no different than the trashy Reality TV and “pop music” industry where profanity and shallowness are celebrated and encouraged. The people running the shows and those who act in them get rich, but they leave behind a lot of impressionable young people who are less able to think deeply or do anything but curse or act dumb to be “cool”.

I know those who run these types of industries will make the usual claim that “hey, at least people are reading.” But in all honesty, encouraging shallow reading of other people’s texts is not an improvement. If anything, it teaches people to have “twitter thoughts”: anything which can’t be explained in 140 characters isn’t worth understanding. This attitude already has ruined political debates. This is not a case of a problem that need solving. This is a case of a married couple seeing $$$ and figuring out how to exploit that.

Most likely this app will fail within 2 years, though the market will decide that. I just can’t see too many people shelling out $40 a year for a blast of shallow short stories when you can already read flash fiction on the web for free (or at least for less). What we need is for business to create new ways to improve learning and literacy, so people will not just read, but understand what they read so they will become thinkers. I have seen far too many business people exploit this gap by pandering to the lowest-common denominator in our media. Pardon the language, but we need to call out these BS artists who are not helping us with the problem.

Image from CNN Money.

The Obvious Answer to Why Boys Read Less than Girls

I love switching out planned topics for new ones at the last minute. Answering this question “Why don’t boys read as much as girls?” Is one of those unexpected but elephant-in-the-room questions when it comes to kids books.

Today’s pondering article, from The Book Seller: (spelling differences left in their original form).

“The children’s book market is in fantastic health. As The Bookseller have reported, in 2014, children’s book sales were up by almost 10 percent, year-on-year — particularly impressive in the context of an overall decline in print book sales — and this shortlist shows why: it’s a brilliant selection of books, demonstrating how much imagination, creativity and talent exists in children’s publishing at the moment.

Selling books to boys is difficult. As has been discussed elsewhere, only 3 of the 18 authors on the Waterstones shortlists are men (one of them, G.R. Gemin, is a Nosy Crow author, shortlisted for his fantastic debut novel Cowgirl).

Boys don’t read as much as girls. Tempting as it might be to dismiss that statement as a gross generalisation, it is objectively, statistically the case. Recent research by the National Literacy Trust (NLT) found that more parents of girls said that their child read daily than parents of boys (75 percent vs 68 percent). Parents of girls were also more likely than parents of boys to report that their child enjoyed stories “a lot” (83 percent vs 74 percent). And girls are almost twice as likely as boys (18 percent vs 10 percent) to read stories more without than with an adult.

This is what motivated us (please excuse the shameless self-promotion) to create our Jack and the Beanstalk app. More than any of our other apps, Jack and the Beanstalk is aimed at reluctant boy readers. It has an emphasis on reading for pleasure, built within a “game-like” architecture — a non-linear narrative, a “scoring” mechanism, multiple endings — that we think works well at encouraging boys who love on-screen gaming to participate in a reading experience.

I don’t mean, by all this, that because we’ve found ways of using screens to engage some boys with reading that we can give up on print (and it would be foolish to think so: while the children’s print market enjoyed its meteoric growth last year, digital revenues remained stubbornly small).”

Um…I can answer this question. And no, non-linear books on e-readers won’t solve the problem.

When I was a kid I read a lot of books in: Goosebumps, Fear Street (R.L. Stine’s Teen series), Hardy Boys,  Encyclopedia Brown, Harry Potter, and some sci-fi books like Ender’s Game and my favorite, Boat of a Million Years (not a kid’s book but still a good read). Later in my teens I read more manga like Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Worst,and Elfen Lied. What did they all have in common? Other than HP, which was more mystery-oriented plots, all the other books had more action and drama and less “feeling” about characters. Action and mystery, not narrative prose, drove the plots.

Heck even my video games had more substance than the teen books offered to me as “bestsellers”. I was simply not interested in Twilight and general romance novels, or the typical BS which may win critical acclaim but sell few copies (like how many Oscar winners are well-received by critics but rarely do well at the box office) which is a lot of what is published as Young Adult (teen readers). So the Japanese mange gave me: ninja fights, pirate fights, ghost soul fights, high school street brawls, etc.

All of these series, the English and Japanese, still had emotion and character development as part of their backgrounds, but the action drove the plot, not “literary prose” (writing about how one feels about something) which tends to be more published. Granted, there are also thriller novels but most of the more interesting ones are adult-oriented, and thrillers often lack deep character development needed to sell a great series. Go look up the rejection histories of Dr. Seuss, HP, and Chicken Soup if you want to see how great series are not even given the time of day while what the “literary community” wants rarely sells well.

So then, why don’t boys read:

Answer: Too many kid’s books are “female-friendly”. Focused too heavily on romance and “how someone feels” about something, or poltiical correctness (minority books with minority settings- I am Latino but I don’t want to read a book about some Hispanic kid living in racist White America trying to get by- how about a Hispanic kid who swings powerful swords and is cocky but brings the heat when it matters? Saves the day because he’s badass and not because he’s Hispanic/Latino? (hmmm). Most literary agents and acquisition editors are women with English lit or Creative Writing degrees, and action adventure books like James Bond are generally frowned upon in the academic world, especially when compared to books like The Great Gatsby, War and Peace, etc.. If you don’t believe me, compare the number of books about ninja/pirate fights published annually to “critically acclaimed” books  minorities living in 1950s racist America or books heavy on female characteristics.

I’m not against these books; they have their own appeal and their own place in literature. But if you want boys to read, how about stuff I want to read and not what adults think kids should be reading.

The Problems with Children’s Lit in 2 Graphs (Super Bowl Edition)

First off, let me say American Sniper is a 5/5 movie. Bradley Cooper surprised me by playing the part of Chris Kyle well, naturally, as though it really was Kyle and not an actor playing a former Navy SEAL. I HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see war through the eyes of a person who actually went to Iraq and fought.

Second, Children’s lit. Publisher’s Launch is a project of Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company to provide better data analytics on the book pub world to publisher’s. Such as, who’s buying what and what the trends are for literature and literacy, two big issues I care about. Education is so important to me that I do a lot of grassroots work to improve education but that’s a post for another time.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book had a presentation at Publisher Launch’s Launch Kids session at the most recent Digital Book World conference called “A look at the US Children’s book Market”. He posted his slideshow to the ‘net, for those of us who couldn’t go.

As someone who read a fair amount of kid’s books, and who just finished manuscript #1 for a middle grade novel, here is what’s wrong with children’s lit in 2 graphs: 

The takeaways:

1. Notice the book is missing from graph #1 for kids 14-17. For most American children once they turn 11 books drop off and YouTube and TV take its place.

2. By 14 social media and mobile devices are more important. Reading drops out of the top 8 slots and even sports drop towards the bottom. I was surprised that gaming was less interesting than Facebook and YouTube among teens. This must explain the rise in watching strangers on YouTube play video games and “commentate” rather than actually picking up the controller yourself like I did when I was a teen. Let me note: They are watching random strangers just play games and talk. Whenever I wanted to watch someone play a game and talk, I would go to friend’s houses and do the same thing! But I digress.

This sadly means it’s tougher to get kids and teens to read, which is noticeable when 80% of Young Adult books are bought by adults, for adults. Unless..

3. Graph #2 shows the rise in getting YouTube (and presumably other) internet celebrities in “writing books”. Now to be fair I’ve never heard of any of the celebrities listed on graph 2, but I found this tidbit on “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg, who goes by the name “Zoella” online. The article notes that Zoe’s debut novel outsold other major authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and E.L. James. Apparently, though, her first week accounted for nearly all of her sales as she has since petered out near the 100,000 mark, surprising given that she has close to 7 million YouTube subscribers. She apparently did not actually write the novel; it was ghostwritten, a rather unusual thing for fiction novels, unless you’re bestselling author “Snooki” from the Jersey Shore.

No doubt the internet was a useful tool to help these YouTube stars, of which I am not one of them (I think I’m too old), sell books. However, in the long run, whose books sell better? The three authors Zoe beat, or Zoe? We all know the answer. Now in the short-term, getting celebrities of all stripes (internet, reality tv, etc.) is a better way of selling books than relying on little-known debut novelists with smaller platforms and fewer social media followers. You fans will go buy a book because it’s “you” and, like, you’re famous. BUT again, what are the odds of these books becoming the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Stephen King just because they have a celebrity’s name on it? Want to place a bet?

I can tell you why. At the end of the day it’s the product quality, not the person/people endorsing the product, which determines a product’s success. While I acknowledge I am a bit envious of my far-fewer social media follower status in promoting anything I have, I can say in the long run relying too heavily on poor-quality celebrity books, even to get kids to read, is not the answer. The kids who are not fans of these celebrities just won’t read or will go back to reading other things by established authors. I love Lord of the Rings, I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy series ever, but it’s a little sad to me when 2 of the top 5 best-selling Fantasy novels for January are by a man who’s been dead for 42 years, as though literally no one in the world can ever write a good fantasy book again.

Please share your thought about whether you think it’s a good idea for book publishers to rely heavily on celebrity-driven books, or take risks on little-known or unknown debut novelists. Remember. celebrity books are nothing new or bad. They can certainly boost sales at least in the short run over non-famous persons. My argument is that relying on internet & reality T.V. celebrities to “write” kid’s books is not a good long-term trend for brand development and literacy improvement.

The full report is here

SUPER BOWL PICK: I will be rooting for New England with my Pats shirt on at the bar tomorrow. Initially I had Seattle 27-16, but I’m more torn on it now. New England plays very well with the “us against the world mentality” and for that reason I leaned towards NE. But Seattle has shown the ability to do their best no matter what the other teams do, and can the Pats defense stop Lynch and Wilson?

The key players are Gronk vs. Wilson. I’ll go closer but I say Seattle 26 New England 23. Seattle’s defense has been very good at shutting down good offenses and even with the injuries in the back 7 I don’t know how good New England’s defense will be at slowing down the Seattle run game, even IF their WR’s are mediocre.

Survey Shows Fewer Children Reading for Pleasure and Why This is a Bad Thing

Scholastic Books and YouGov conducted a poll asking 2,558 parents and children on how often the children read for pleasure and the results are not good. The report is long but I picked the results which I think are most important and in some cases most troubling.

Problem 1: Roughly 54% of children ages 0-5 are read to at home 5-7 days a week. But only 34% of kids 6-8 have their parents read to them as frequently, and this drops to 17% for kids 9-11.

Some will say the kids don’t want to be with their parents. WRONG! 83% of the kids surveyed said they “loved” or “liked” when parents read to them, and 40% said they wished their parents had continued reading aloud to them. Given the high number of children who like the quality time with their parents, why do so many parents stop when the child turns six?

Schools have a huge influence on reading for pleasure but few schools really set aside time to do this. I remember being in school and getting reading assignments. Most of the books weren’t that interesting though there were some times when I was able to read in class. 52% of children surveyed said reading in school is one of their favorite parts of the day but only 33% of children have this option available.

For children from low-income homes, 61% said they read for fun mostly in school or equally at school and at home, while 32% of kids ages 6–17 from the highest-income homes say the same.

Problem 2: boys do not read as often as girls. Some of this is perceived to be genetics (girls and women are usually better at reading and writing and verbal language) but I will venture that many books just don’t appeal to boys as much as girls. Note the decline from 2010 to 2014 for both boys and girls, but especially boys:

Problem 3: More time on screens means less time reading. Screen time is increasing

 OK so what we conclude? There is a huge drop-off by parents both a) reading to kids past age 6 and b) parents themselves reading a lot. Now 5-7 nights a week might be tough for most people so I won’t go so far as to say that’s the gold standard. But let’s agree at least 2 nights a week, and at least 2 nights a week with kids, would probably help most children (especially those disinclined to read on their own).

It should not be a surprise that kids whose parents are more involved and who go to schools where literacy is encouraged are more likely to do better in school and in life. We know many children, particularly children in lower-income households, are unlikely to have one of those factors, let alone both, and thus reading for pleasure declines. One graph I did not feature shows a decline for children from wealthier backgrounds also don’t read as much, perhaps spending too much time on screens.

Here is a graph from the Annie E. Casey Foundation on reading proficiency for 4th graders. The Foundation has long-term data on their website showing the correlation between children who cannot read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade and those most likely to end up incarcerated.

Saturday is National Readathon Day #timetoread. With no football on I’ll make sure to read at least one chapter of something. I will have a special post for Saturday on this topic and the book I will read.

  • Last Call: Most children read books by print rather than e-books.

read the full survey here

Can an Author be Successful Without a Huge Social Media Platform?

Could Steven King  land a book contract today for his debut novel without celebrity status or being know by the “in-crowd?”

photo credit: blogs.denverpost.com

As I have discovered since I decided to try to have my novel published, publishers care A LOT about an author’s social media platform in order to drive sales. Now I happen to be a public relations pro and so building a platform, however cost-effective at this time, is not a problem for me to want to do and do well. Many authors, however, are not very good at doing this, and thus is one reason I provide helpful tips on social media strategies (and coming soon, media appearance tips) to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter @sammydrf.

Having a social media strategy is a good thing. As an author you have to be able to sell yourself and it is unreasonable to think a publisher or agent will just book your tours, get you media appearances, or market your book while you kick back and do nothing but sign copies between working on your next novel. However, I agree to some extend with comments made by Seth Godin, founder of the website squidoo.com. At this week’s Digital Book World 2015 conference he said (emphasis mine):

“Not all of your authors want to be good at social media. Not all of them have something to say when they’re not writing their book,” he told publishers.

In Godin’s view, the emphasis on building author platforms has gone too far. If so many authors now approach social media as a part of their jobs in the digital era, it’s at least partly thanks to their publishers, who have assiduously told them it is. But the problem is that it often looks that way to readers.

For one thing, that can make it hard to build a following, Godin says, and for another, doing so isn’t just about driving engagement on social channels, anyway.

Establishing and maintaining a loyal audience is by its nature a long-term investment, and what loyalty looks like online can sometimes differ considerably from what it looks like offline, “where the real work” gets done.

Godin points to Bob Dylan, who isn’t particularly active on social media but still has a vibrant and profitable career. “The long-tail rewards people for whom there’s passion from a few,” he says. “The Monkees had a TV show, but Dylan’s still around.”

Is this not an accurate observation, or what? It’s the quality of the book and the personality of the author which sells, not just how many social media followers he/she has. For example, Steven King (pictured above) had exactly zero (0) Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Vine followers when his first book Carrie was published in 1973. Did he end up being a colossal failure because he couldn’t tweet or post to his 35,000+ fans to buy the book? Of course not. He built his reputation on being an excellent writer (my favorite King book is Firestarter) and by the time he joined Twitter he was able to secure fans based on a previously built reputation.,

Contrast this with the Jersey Shore castmember Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, who published A Shore Thing in January 2011 and sold a whopping 9,000 copies in its first month, and not much more after that (note: I actually read a full chapter of this book). The reason? It really was NOT well written. Believe me.

So assuming that because an individual has online popularity, whether via television or social media, will mean lots of sales forever is mistaken. The problem is, if the quality is sub-par, even a person’s fans will not buy future copies and thus harm his/her future sales and writing career.

Now having said this, I agree with publishers and agents that authors should have social media platforms and be regular users. The reality is, we live in the age of the internet and this is where people find you and me. Thinking you never have to market your book yourself is asking for too much from a publisher or agent. The difference is that I agree with Seth that publishing good quality literature will drive up a person’s popularity and as long as the author is willing to be a self-promoter, that has to matter more in the long-run than just expecting people to have a built-in platform based on popularity somewhere else, which is a short-term strategy.

Note: for non-fiction authors you must have credibility, whether via popularity a la Bill O’Reilly, or by being respected in your field of study a la Noam Chomsky. However, in the end it’s the content that sells and not just the platform. If O’Reilly was really that bad he would not have a list of bestsellers in his Killing series.

So going forward here’s to writing good quality literature and being a willing self-promoter, while recognizing that quality drives sales better in the long run than short-term fame.

Speaking of social media, please follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and my youtube channel Samuel Ramirez.

Also please subscribe to my blog for new posts, which generally come out Tuesday and Friday (or whenever I feel the need to post extra)

The Traditional Publisher’s Revenge: Turns out Publishing with Amazon has Drawbacks, too

cartoon credit: Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe. Distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

On December 27 the New York Times ran an article called “Amazon offers all you can eat books: Authors turn up noses”. The problem starts with a new Amazon program called Kindle Unlimited, which allows readers a.k.a customers to buy into a monthly membership for $9.99 to get unlimited access to a wide range of titles. Needless to say, this is great for avid readers and for Amazon, who gets people to use their services, but a bad deal for authors who depend on selling books even if only for $0.99 a copy.

From the article: (bold emphasis mine)

“Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel.

Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.

Revenue from e-books leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats. But Kindle Unlimited is making the glut worse, some writers say.

The program has the same all-you-can-eat business model as Spotify in music, Netflix in video and the book start-ups Oyster and Scribd. Consumers feast on these services, which can offer new artists a wider audience than they ever could have found before the digital era.

Holly Ward, who writes romances under the name H.M. Ward, has much the same complaint about Kindle Unlimited. After two months in the program, she said, her income dropped 75 percent. “I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further,” she said on a Kindle discussion board. She immediately left the program. Kindle Unlimited is not mandatory, but writers fear that if they do not participate, their books will not be promoted.

One major point of contention: Kindle Unlimited generally requires self-published writers to be exclusive, closing off the possibility of sales through Apple, Barnes & Noble and other platforms. (Ms. Ward was an exception.)

Amazon usually gives self-published writers 70 percent of what a book earns, which means a novel selling for $4.99 yields $3.50. This is much more than traditional publishers pay, a fact that Amazon frequently points out.

How “The Shazam Effect” changed music- and could change book publishing

There was an interesting article in The Atlantic earlier this week called “The Shazam Effect.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Shazam is a tech start up founded in 2000 by a Standford Ph.D. named Avery Wang who wanted to develop a service which could use a cellphone to identify any song within the phone’s range using an algorithm which created a unique acoustic fingerprint for each track, turning each song into a piece of data which could be read by the Shazam program. 500 million downloads later the program is used by music industry executives to determine not merely what songs are popular, but which songs will be hits with the right marketing effort in the future based on early-detection. Read the following (edited for length) and for those of who who like reading substitute “music” for “books”, “songs” for “self-published novelist” “artists” with “authors”, “hear” and “listen(er)” with “read(er)”, and “labels” or “music executives ” with “traditional publishers”:

“By studying 20 million searches every day, Shazam can identify which songs are catching on, and where, before just about anybody else. “Sometimes we can see when a song is going to break out months before most people have even heard of it,” Jason Titus, Shazam’s former chief technologist, told me.  Last year, Shazam released an interactive map overlaid with its search data, allowing users to zoom in on cities around the world and look up the most Shazam’d songs in São Paulo, Mumbai, or New York. The map amounts to a real-time seismograph of the world’s most popular new music, helping scouts discover unsigned artists just as they’re starting to set off tremors.

Shazam searches are just one of several new types of data guiding the pop-music business. Concert promoters study Spotify listens to route tours through towns with the most fans, and some artists look for patterns in Pandora streaming to figure out which songs to play at each stop on a tour. In fact, all of our searching, streaming, downloading, and sharing is being used to answer the question the music industry has been asking for a century: What do people want to hear next?

It’s a question that label executives once answered largely by trusting their gut. But data about our preferences have shifted the balance of power, replacing experts’ instincts with the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, labels have gotten much better at understanding what we want to listen to. This is the one silver lining the music industry has found in the digital revolution, which has steadily cut into profits. So it’s clearly good for business—but whether it’s good for music is a lot less certain.

Next Big Sound, a five-year-old music-analytics company based in New York, scours the Web for Spotify listens, Instagram mentions, and other traces of digital fandom to forecast breakouts. It funnels half a million new acts through an algorithm to create a list of 100 stars likely to break out within the next year. “If you signed our top 100 artists, 20 of them would make the Billboard 200,” Victor Hu, a data scientist with Next Big Sound, told me.

Last year, the company unveiled a customizable search tool called Find, which, for a six-figure annual subscription, helps scouts mine social media to spot artists who show signs of nascent stardom. If, for example, you wanted to search for obscure bands with the fastest-growing followings on Twitter, Find could produce a list within seconds.

To get a song on the radio in the first place, music labels confront a paradox: How do you prove that it will be a hit before anyone has heard it? DJs consider unfamiliar songs “tune-outs,” because audiences tend to spurn new music. In the past, labels sometimes pressured or outright bribed stations to promote their music. Songs became hits because executives decided they should be hits.

But radio, too, has come to rely more on data, and now when label executives pitch a station, they’re likely to come armed with spreadsheets. The search for evidence of a song’s potential has become exhaustive: you can’t just track radio data, or sales, or YouTube hits, or Facebook interactions, or even proprietary surveys and focus groups. To persuade a major radio station to play a new song, labels have to connect all these dots.

The Hot 100 matters because it doesn’t just reflect listener preferences, it also shapes them. In a groundbreaking 2006 study on the influence of song rankings, three researchers at Columbia University showed that popularity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The researchers sent participants to different music Web sites where they could listen to dozens of tracks and download their favorites. Some sites displayed a ranking of the most-downloaded songs; others did not. Participants who saw rankings were more likely to listen to the most-popular tracks.

The researchers then wondered what would happen if they manipulated the rankings. In a follow-up experiment, some sites displayed the true download counts and others showed inverted rankings, where the least-popular song was listed in the No. 1 spot. The inverted rankings changed everything: previously ignored songs soared in popularity, and previously popular songs were ignored. Simply believing, even wrongly, that a song was popular made participants more likely to download it.

Everyone I spoke with about the Hot 100—label and radio executives, industry analysts, and other journalists—agreed with Jay Frank’s assessment that consumers have more say than they did decades ago, when their tastes were shaped by the hit makers at labels. But here’s the catch: if you give people too much say, they will ask for the same familiar sounds on an endless loop, entrenching music that is repetitive, derivative, and relentlessly played out.

Because the most-popular songs now stay on the charts for months, the relative value of a hit has exploded. The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn 77 percent of all revenue from recorded music, media researchers report. And even though the amount of digital music sold has surged, the 10 best-selling tracks command 82 percent more of the market than they did a decade ago. 

And not only are we hearing the same hits with greater frequency, but the hits themselves sound increasingly alike. As labels have gotten more adept at recognizing what’s selling, they’ve been quicker than ever to invest in copycats. People I spoke with in the music industry told me they worried that the reliance on data was leading to a “clustering” of styles and genres, promoting a dispiriting sameness in pop music.

In 2012, the Spanish National Research Council released a report that delighted music cranks around the world. Pop, it seemed, was growing increasingly bland, loud, and predictable, recycling the same few chord progressions over and over. The study, which looked at 464,411 popular recordings around the world between 1955 and 2010, found that the most-played music of the new millennium demonstrates “less variety in pitch transitions” than that of any preceding decade.

The problem is not our pop stars. Our brains are wired to prefer melodies we already know. (David Huron, a musicologist at Ohio State University, estimates that at least 90 percent of the time we spend listening to music, we seek out songs we’ve heard before.) That’s because familiar songs are easier to process, and the less effort needed to think through something—whether a song, a painting, or an idea—the more we tend to like it. In psychology, this idea is known as fluency: when a piece of information is consumed fluently, it neatly slides into our patterns of expectation, filling us with satisfaction and confidence.”

You can see what data analytics can do for music, you can imagine what they can do for books.

Imagine major publishing companies using data algorithms to predict what self-published author or book might be the next big hit. Rather than let the market decide, they take someone with potential and make sure he/she is shot up to the top based on data and the assumption people want more of the same. Since most people prefer things they already know, they will support whatever is considered “popular”. So if the major publishers decided a particular book should be popular, they can simply bump it to the top, knowing the book-buying public will buy a print or e-book copy because they think everyone else is. The power of peer pressure, combined with people’s comfort in seeking out things we are familiar with and enjoy, could continue moving the literacy world in the same direction as the music industry: Authors will be chosen based on potential popularity and fitting their books into a formula for what people want, which means make sure your books look like everyone else’s with only minor differences. Those who are “chosen” will earn even more of the take on book revenue because they will perpetually be near the top. Only now people will be chosen by data analytics rather than someone reading the slush pile.

This could be a boon to self-publishers, who with a little marketing, social media presence, and luck, could be plucked from relative obscurity and made into the next big thing. Agents will have an important, but diminished, role in finding new talent because the publishing companies will just pay a tech company for this service. In this system agents would focus more on the contract and business side and less on presenting an author to the editors and publishers.

However, this system would further increase the disparity between the top and the bottom, as anyone showing even a modicum of talent will be whisked to the top just as the music industry has been successful at doing. And we all know there is a reason authors on a major bestsellers list stick that achievement on their books.

What do you think about this article? Could reading become like listening? Books treated like the music industry treats authors? the gap between the wealthy few mega best-sellers and everyone else continue to grow? Or are reading and listening too separate for this ever to happen?

The image is owned and copyrighted by The Atlantic.