Fewer people are reading fiction than ever before.
According to a report from the National Endowment for the Arts, the percentage of U.S. adults who read literature fell to the lowest level recorded since the group started tracking the statistic in 1982. It's anyone's guess as to why we're spending less time reading for fun, but one theory is that people are simply spending more time online and don't make time for books.
Last year, Dallas bookstore The Wild Detectives tested out a unique approach to getting people interested in the literary classics: clickbait.
Yes, clickbait. It worked for internet posts, but would it get people to read Hemingway? That's what The Wild Detectives wanted to find out.
The premise for the experiment was simple: They took beloved pieces of literature and gave them modern clickbait titles. For example, "The Jungle Book" became "He befriended a bear when he was a kid and fate reunites them years later." "Dracula" became "Romanian man discovers shocking fact about garlic that will give you nightmares," and "Frankenstein" became "German doctor becomes first to perform full body transplant."
The Wild Detectives didn't stop there — they actually tested these headlines on Facebook. People who clicked on the posts were taken to the full text of the public domain stories, which the store uploaded to its Medium profile.
The coolest part of this campaign wasn't just the cheeky titles and Facebook trickery, but rather, that it netted some majorly positive results. According to the store's case study, they experienced a 150% increase in engagement with their Facebook posts and a 1,400% increase in traffic to their website.
The store did it for brand awareness, and it clearly paid off.
Why go through so much trouble to encourage people to read fiction? Does it really matter what people read?
Aside from being a good way to spend some extra time, reading literary fiction actually serves a pretty important purpose in building empathy.
A number of recent studies concluded that literary fiction plays a role in developing the necessary skills to be able put ourselves in someone else's shoes. According to a study by Keith Oatley, the director of the Cognitive Science program at the University of Toronto, the act of reading fiction helps build empathy due, in part, to the way people engage with stories on an emotional and analytical level as well as the content of books themselves.
"Fiction can be thought of as a form of consciousness of selves and others that can be passed from an author to a reader or spectator, and can be internalized to augment everyday cognition," wrote Oatley.
Empathy is essential in helping create a better, more livable world.
If building these skills relies on picking up the occasional book or two, we should celebrate acts of innovation like The Wild Detectives' "Litbaits" campaign that aim to reignite a passion for reading. After all, it's for the sake of humanity.
Learn more about what made Litbaits the success it is in the video below: