“In 2009…the challenge was ‘find me something to read.’ In 2014, the challenge is, ‘there’s so much to read.'” So said Mark Armstrong of Longreads at around the midpoint of the year, and he was right – the explosion of online content makes “so many books, so little time” sound quaint. My e-reading increased dramatically in 2014, not because I read more ebooks, but because it was easier than ever to discover and consume stuff to read online. In a year of so much internet, so little time, here are my heroes and villains.
The New Yorker
The New Yorker ate my summer. In July, the magazine temporarily made its entire archive accessible for free, hoping that readers smitten with its lengthy and lovingly-edited articles would pay for subscriptions once the paywall was reinstated. I scoured the top article roundups, set out to read all I could, and ended up immersed in writing about crime, justice, dogs, cats, real estate, language, the nervous system, mental illness, and Lucinda Williams (to name just a few highlights).
So now that the paywall is back up, have I subscribed? Well, no – if only because I still have so many other things to read. But it would be difficult to argue that the source of some of my year’s most memorable reading experiences is not worth paying for.
“[P]eople are spending a lot of time reading — and reading seriously — on the phone.” – David Remnick, New Yorker editor in chief, Oct. 10, 2014
The Readability app was the enabler of my New Yorker binge and perhaps the most indispensable hero of my year. Every TTC delay, every customer service lineup, every medical waiting room was bearable, thanks to the little repository of escapism on my phone. And the onslaught of new material surging up in my browser felt more manageable each time I clicked the “Read Later” icon to file bits of it away.
The Toast and Clickhole
Cheers to the bringers of buoyant LOLs in the sea of outrage that was the internet in 2014. A 10,000-word New Yorker essay isn’t always the ticket at the end of a long day – sometimes, you want to turn to the latest installment in The Toast’s “Dirtbag” series, or enjoy Clickhole’s knack for being Buzzfeed on acid.
Retargeting and other advertising ickiness
No, it’s not a euphemism for imminent vomiting: “Ugh, I need to clear my cookies!” means an ad for some product I looked at is now following me around to other websites. What a great retail strategy – the moment I click for more details of an unfolding tragedy is exactly when you should remind me that I spent a chunk of my precious remaining life in this world dithering over which rice cooker to buy.
Retargeting is just one of the many intrusive advertising practices (autoplay video, I’m looking at you too!) that some have argued are partly responsible for the web’s decline. I don’t have any solutions to the problem of how publishers can make money online, but infuriating your readers isn’t likely to be the answer.
Publishers who still can’t format ebooks
It’s almost 2015. This ebook thing seems like it might be more than a fad. No need to hire an expensive change management consultant, publishers – here’s some free strategic advice: you must learn how to format manuscripts for electronic consumption.