Thursday, December 06, 2007

Time Cost of Books

When it comes to goods such as books, movies and TV, our consumption of them is limited more by time than the price they cost to purchase. As I wrote about previously, time is more valuable than money in the attention economy. While it is easy to determine the "time cost" of DVDs and audio books, it is not so easy to figure out for written books. To help see the time cost of books, I whipped up this Greasemonkey script for use at

This script looks at the number of words in the book (available when the "search in this book" feature in enabled), and then figures out the amount of time it would take to read at the average reader rate of 200 words per minute (you can ascertain your own reading rate here and adjust the values accordingly).

While you might think that the number of pages would give you the same information, it doesn't really as editors use the same tricks I used in high school to meet page requirements: change font and margin sizes. They even have another trick up their sleeves that was unavailable to me: adjusting the size of the page. Because of this, a book that is 600 pages is likely to have much more than three as many words as one of 200, as the former will be printed in a very small font, while the latter is likely to be in a big font on a small page.

Both Garbage Land and Freakonomics are 336 pages long, but Garbage Land takes 7.5 hours to read vs. just 4.2 for Freakonomics. Maybe part of the reason for Freakonomics success is its relatively low time cost. Malcolm Gladwell must have thought he hit the sweet spot of book length with The Tipping Point, for his follow up book Blink had the identical time cost of 5.9 hours. And if you were wondering how how much time it takes to read the book that is synonymous with being long, War and Peace (original title: War, What is it Good For?) comes in at 49.2 hours.

With the Kindle, Amazon has the ability to get actual data on exactly how long it takes you to read books. They could determine what your reading rate is and then tell you the time cost of any book you are looking to purchase for your Kindle.

My wish list of books to read is always longer than the amount of time I have to spend reading, so now I will be able to tell how "expensive" it would be to read any particular book.


clicclic said...

Not sure if you'll see this request but the link you provide to "ascertain your own reading rate" is dead or is mangled. I am not sure what fun game on the brainteaser site serves the reading rate purpose.

Just wondering if you could check that link and let me/us know. Excellent site and excellent blogging as always.

Fat Knowledge said...


I have fixed that link. Thanks for letting me know.

Glad you enjoy the blog, I will try to keep the goodness flowing. :)

Viral said...

great idea for a script!

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