Recently Farhad Manjoo on Slate published a piece entitled “You Won’t Finish this Article.” The post had to do how much time or rather how little time the majority of people read through any given online article. In the first paragraph he made this salient point, “For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone. You “bounced” in Web traffic jargon, meaning you spent no time “engaging” with this page at all.” More still leave once they get to the fourth paragraph and even more once they have to scroll to read more of the piece.
I know for me when there’s an online piece I want to read, I have to print it out so I can comfortably read through the hardcopy pages. I assume this to be a function of my age. The breakdown of the analytics Manjoo sites aren’t detailed by age group. My guess is most people don’t print out articles. Anyway, he cites Josh Schwartz of a firm called Chartbeat. The firm’s data says that the majority of people who bother to start reading a page onscreen — roughly 700 pixels tall in a typical browser window (an average web article is about 2,000 pixels) — don’t make it all the way down to the end of the first page. And a good number of them won’t make ti hallway through – thought this apparently doesn’t stop them from tweeting about or sharing an article if it catches their fancy.
Maybe this is my resistance to reading short stories in e-format. Whether I’m editing my work or for an anthology I’m putting together, I have to print the manuscript to mark it up and make my notes. But like everyone else, I bounce around the web when I’m checking out favorably trafficked sites like therapsheet.com, criminalelements.com or comicbookresouirces.com. I’m drawn to intriguing headlines or the sub-heads which give some clue as to a given piece’s subject matter. Clicking on an article I’ll often scan the piece for key elements that interest me, though usually I’ll do this to the end of the piece, but not always.
Not sure how our growing collective electronic induced ADD of instant gratification means for the long form of storytelling. Punchier sentences? Each page has to be its own mini-cliffhanger? I do some of that in my work, like say (blatant self-promotion here) in my story “Decimator Smith and the Fangs of the Fire Serpent” in Black Pulp. But that’s the form of that kind of tale. Some tellings are meant to be drawn out, languid even in their telling, in setting the context and the characters therein.
Form does dictate story in some ways. A script has to be written in a different way, a short hand way, than prose. A short story generally demands hitting certain marks in a quicker way than a 85,000 word novel. But you still have to tell the story you want to tell. I think the bells and whistles and hyperlinks embeded in online articles is fine to pique readers’ interests. For fiction, I’m now convinced to stick with the words only…okay, maybe a few illustrations too. Print it out, sit in your comfortable chair, and hopefully the spell of the story will be what enthralls you and makes you stick with it, however long it takes.