On Wednesday of this week, my company, Voyant Technologies, Inc. of Westminster, Colorado, had our quarterly all company meeting. (You may think that 5 commas in a sentence of 19 words is extreme, but as far as I know I used them all correctly) From time to time, the powers that be like to give us special trinkets for attending these meetings, which usually last 2 to 3 hours. Well, this time every employee got a new copy of Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D. I had heard of this book before, but never imagined I would own my very own copy. After glancing through the book, my first and strongest reaction was, “You got paid for this?”
You see, the “book” is only 94 pages long, hardly a length of book you would expect to pay $19.95 (retail price) for. But a more careful look at those 94 pages shows that included in that count all of the front pages – the title page, two pages of “Praise for Spencer Johnson’s Books”, a page listing people who bought the book, another page showing reviewers’ comments on the book, a page listing the author’s other books, a second title page, a copyright page, a page of a couple quotes the author likes, a table of contents, and several more pages of introduction and blank separator pages, followed by a third title page. So will all that filler, the book doesn’t even start until page 21! Discounting all the fluff, that means the “book” is actually only 74 pages.
But wait, there’s less! 15 of those 74 pages aren’t actually text, but contain a drawing of a section of a cheese wheel with a single-sentence smarmy saying. For instance, they used an entire page to say “Having cheese makes you happy.” So, assuming they could (and should) have printed those as callouts instead of giving them their own pages, there’s really only about 60 pages of content here.
Are you getting the idea that the author and publisher of this book used the same approach you used in 9th grade English class when you had to write a 20 page research paper? I don’t know about you, but I would write as much as I could and then double space it, make big margins, and – if possible – use the largest font size the typewriter would handle. Well, the people who brought you Who Moved My Cheese! didn’t forget those lessons from 9th grade. It’s not double spaced, but they used the largest typeface I’ve ever seen an adult book printed in. There’s definitely no need for a special “large type” edition of this book for visually impaired readers. I’m guessing it’s 14 point, maybe 16 point. I just took a random sample of a typical page of this book. It has 150 words. 150 x 60 is 9000. So I’m guessing this book is roughly 9000 words long.
Compare that to 1200 to 2500 for a typical mainstream magazine article. But I guess tiny books are popular in the business world. This particular one says it’s a “#1 Bestseller”. Virginia Polytechnic Institute says “A ‘good’ reading speed is around 500 to 700 words per minute for “fiction and non-technical materials” which probably fits this book. Let’s do some basic math. 9000 / 500 = 18. So, it’ll probably take a good-but-slow reader roughly 18 minutes to read this “book”. OK, OK, I’ll be generous. I’ll assume it’s a good book and that most readers will re-read some of the better passages. And nobody will probably read it straight through. So let’s say it takes 30 minutes to read this book. At $19.95, that’s about $40/hour.
Compare that to a movie, which is about $3/hour ($8 ticket for a 2.5 hour movie). Or a long paperback sci-fi book, which is about $0.16/hour ($8 book that takes about 50 hours to read). Or commercial television, which is $0/hour (and you get what you pay for).
On the other end of the spectrum, consider a visit to a nice spa for $75/hour. Or a high class prostitute at about $1200/hour (ask my friend Charlie Sheen). Or a ride on the Concorde at about $4000/hour.
My point? I guess my point is that this book is a much better deal than taking a high class prostitute on the Concorde to a Paris spa. But it’s pretty lousy in comparison to the next Lord of the Rings movie or a good sci-fi book.