Do people read anymore?

They say you should never speak ill of the dead, but Steve Jobs, widely considered to be a visionary, and to many a god, made some predictions that suggest he was neither omnipotent nor even particularly far-sighted.

In 2008, for example, he suggested the Amazon Kindle was doomed to failure. Here’s the full quote from the New York Times:

It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore… Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.

Let’s put aside the fact that referring to less than one book is a either a peculiar way of saying “no books” or a missed opportunity to delve into the fascinating world of book fractions. And let’s ignore the fact he was flat out wrong about the success of the device. And let’s, for a moment, look at his reasoning: “People don’t read anymore.”

He said it twice. He must have been sure about it.

The moment I got into copywriting, I heard it, too – and not from the sort of office back-seat drivers who wouldn’t know their arses from their elbows; but from managers and sensible, seasoned colleagues.

The response I gave in my head was always “Then why have you hired me?”

To be fair, those who proffered this advice didn’t mean “everyone is now basically illiterate”. They meant that scanning was the way people “consumed content” online. And there’s a lot of research that tells us this is true.

So perhaps people – and Jobs – should have been saying “people read differently nowadays”.

But I’m not sure if that’s really the case, either.

I’m pretty sure the Kindle went OK after Jobs’ dire soothsaying, and if sales are not necessarily booming at the moment, that’s not because people have given up on books.

I’m also fairly certain that searching for a pertinent piece of information among less relevant detail isn’t something that humans discovered only after the invention of the screen and the pixel.

And I’m convinced that George Tannenbaum is right when he says, on this very subject (which was the inspiration for this post) that:

The fact is, no one reads what’s dull, insipid, smarmily slick, dishonest, shilling, jargony crap. No one reads an in flight magazine, or a message from Sleepy’s, the mattress superstore.

But, as [Howard] Gossage put it perfectly, “No one reads an ad. They read what’s interesting. And sometimes that’s an ad.”

(Gossage died 13 years before Time named the computer the Machine of the Year and Commodore launched the 64.)

Speaking of the Commodore 64, it’s considered the highest-selling computer of all time. By 1994, Commodore International was bankrupt and defunct.

Technology, and the world that shapes it, changes outrageously fast, but it doesn’t tend to change humans – not essentially.

Maybe our attention spans are getting slightly shorter. Maybe Millennials are a touch more impatient than Baby Boomers. Maybe we’re evolving – ever so gradually. Of course we are.

But people still read.  And they will for a while yet.

On Brighton Grammar’s bullying article

Try hard

Earlier this week a private boys’ school in Melbourne got a lot of unwanted media attention for publishing an article on its website on the topic of bullying.

You can read the article here and Brighton Grammar’s responses to the uproar here.

The article was written by Melissa Anderson, who describes herself as a “resilience coach”. She’s also a counsellor and a pharmacist.

My first reaction to it was astonishment, disgust and a kind of despite-myself amusement. I admit, I spent a good half an hour ridiculing it on social media.

As I read and re-read it, though, I began to wonder: what if it deserved the benefit of the doubt? What if this wasn’t the work of a person with very bad ideas, but merely the work of a very bad writer?

What if somewhere past the corporate tinniness; deep within the thick, barely penetrable forest of the gardener anecdote; beyond the jarring non-sequiturs and sudden change in addressee there was something worthwhile?

What if this was… salvageable?

So I went through it as a kind of exercise in morbid curiosity. Here’s what I came up with: Continue reading

On delivering value

delivering value

The uniform I use when delivering value to clients

Value. is the world’s most precious resource. Every organisation desperately seeks it – from their employees, from their partners, from their copywriters, from their carpet and upholstery.

However, value is a bit different to other prized commodities. Unlike iron ore and gold, for example, it’s intangible, infinite and entirely subjective.

That doesn’t mean, though, we should strut around the office feeling confident that we’re all “value adders”. I mean, let’s be honest, we almost certainly are. Because value is so nebulous a concept, we can pretty well be unconscious at work, and as long as we’re not slumped on the CEO’s desk wearing only a doily, we can make a case that we’re “adding value”.

My point is that in 2015 adding value isn’t enough. It’s a bit passe, actually. We need to be delivering value to truly earn our swagger.

So how do we do that? Continue reading