How one book store brilliantly used clickbait to get people reading fiction.

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.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.


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.

"When it's OKAY to slut shame single mothers" describes the plot of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" pretty well. Photo from The Wild Detectives/YouTube.

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.

"British guy dies after selfie gone wrong" might be the nudge you need to pick up Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Grey." Photo from The Wild Detectives/YouTube.

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.

"Teenage girl tricked boyfriend into killing himself" captures the essence of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Photo from The Wild Detectives/YouTube.

Empathy is essential in helping create a better, more livable world.

Social skills are a key factor in predicting how successful someone will be in life. Empathy is a driving force behind social change, and it's what makes up the very foundation of civil society.

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:

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

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Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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