Saturday, June 2, 2012

If you have no time, we've got the thing for you

The other morning I was sitting at my kitchen table eating blueberries -- New Jersey blueberries, mind you -- dutifully browsing through the daily roll-call of bookish news items on my iPad, that effin psychological ball-and-chain, when I happened to click on a tweeted link to Mike Shatzkin's blog entry on something called Citia. There I came across this rather reductive classification of potential content consumers into four groups:

"If you have time and money, you are the book business’s best kind of customer. We sell you lots of books.

If you have time but no money, you go to the library.

If you have no time or money, you go to YouTube.

But if you have money and no time, then we in the book business have nothing for you."

I thought to myself, only a professional marketer could've come up with something so simplistic. Sure enough, the formulation was attributed to a "veteran marketer and digital pioneer" who is heading an outfit engaged in creating Citia apps -- digital flashcards on which will appear the re-worked conceptual essence of serious nonfiction works tailored to the last group of customers identified above: those who have no time, presumably because they're too busy making (or counting) money, and therefore cannot read whole books. They will become "concept consumers."

There is so much of this kind of nonsensical hucksterism on the internet that it feels somewhat churlish to single out this particular instance, especially since Mr. Shatzkin is an often alert observer and commenter on the current state of the book business (if one can any longer call it that), one whose blog is usually worth paying attention to. But there comes a time when one has had it up to here with inane pitches, no matter who promulgates them.

"But if you have money and no time…" Simply put, is there anyone more pitiable than someone who has no time? The only people who truly have no time are the dead -- those for whom time has run out. The dead don't read, the dead don't buy. The dead are dead. You can bury their gelt with them, for all the good it would do.

But, of course, "no time" is not exactly what the marketer means. What she means is that some people have very little time. Why? Because they've given almost all of it over to their money. Money is rapacious -- it eats time, leaving only scraps. And there may be money to be made in giving these people something to fill those scraps.

Now here's the kicker question: if you had a little time left over after making your money, what would you do with it? Me, I'd spend those precious moments on outrageous sex, or a great meal, or, like a dying cowboy in some operatic western, a final cigarette. The last thing in the world I'd waste my time on is digital flashcards. That would be too pitiable -- to have killed almost all one's time making money and then to take the few minutes left to sift through digestible kernels of "serious nonfiction" (including, no doubt, prescriptions for living the Good Life) as seen on a little screen.

It's also worth remarking on the condescension shown to those with "no time or money" -- although they have to have enough money to purchase a digital device (and internet access). They go to YouTube. How ghetto of them…! People like them would never touch serious non-fiction, even in predigested bits. What hooey.

Why is it that so many seemingly smart, hyper-educated people promote the obliteration of time in favor of money? How is it that so many of us accept the unthinking assertions made by marketers who have nothing to offer except more rungs on the ladder to oblivion? I guess one starts from the premise that the presumptive customers are brain-dead, if not completely so. After all, they have no time.

I sat there with my blueberries parsing the breathless prose in the rest of the entry for a single new or vital idea. I couldn't find one. So I shut off my computer and went to get something substantial to read off-line. At first I thought I'd continue slogging through The Good Life for Dummies but instead decided to start on the Cliffs Notes version of Paradise Lost. It's about a guy who's got all the time in the world.

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