Blog Post

How to make reading more like Angry Birds

Book publishers should make reading books as addictive and habit-forming as playing Angry Birds, said Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit” (also known as “that book about how Target knew a teenager was pregnant before her dad did”), at the Book Industry Study Group’s “Making Information Pay” conference this morning.

Here’s how a habit is formed: A cue leads to a routine leads to a reward. “Not a lot of attention has been paid to the cue or to the reward,” Duhigg says.

For example, BlackBerries were moderately popular until RIM figured out how to make the BlackBerry vibrate when a user got a new e-mail. The vibration was the cue, the routine was checking e-mail and the reward was “a moment of distraction.” Then “there was an explosion in the number of people checking their BlackBerries throughout the day,” Duhigg said. (Of course, now RIM’s in trouble partly because other devices — hello, iPhone — have found new and better ways to provide those moments of distraction.)

“Solving boredom is the #2 way to create habits”

“Books are perfectly positioned to take advantage of things that are habit-forming,” said Duhigg, because “solving boredom is the number-two way to create habits.” He pointed to The Atavist‘s e-singles, enhanced with video and pop-up images, as an example of “the bookification of Angry Birds.” Those enhancements can offer a “fast delivery of rewards.” (Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that enhanced e-books haven’t done very well, but that could be in part because publishers have tried to charge more for them.)

Or authors can offer “intermittent rewards” and the element of surprise — essentially by writing good books that offer something unexpected throughout.” Duhigg gave the example of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” as a book that “surprises you constantly.”