Does the end ever justify a means like clickbait?
That’s debatable. But a new contender in the discussion is Dallas bookstore The Wild Detectives, which is using what it wryly calls “Litbait” … to trick people into reading classic, copyright-free novels.
Facebook posts featured witty teases like “British guy dies after selfie gone wrong” (The Picture of Dorian Grey), “Teenage girl tricked boyfriend into killing himself” (Romeo and Juliet), “When it’s OKAY to slut shame single mothers” (The Scarlet Letter) and—wait for it!—”This Italian politician makes Trump look like a saint” (The Prince by Machiavelli … which got as passionate a response as you can expect).
The campaign launched on Sept. 6, which was National Read a Book Day. When users clicked on the links, they were directed to a blog post that included the text of the entire book. (Talk about a long read.)
While it’s unlikely people stuck around to read a six-hour blog post, The Wild Detectives says “Litbait” yielded a 14,000 percent boost in site traffic (leading one to wonder what its traffic was before) and 150 percent more post engagement on Facebook.
“You fell for the bait, now fall for the book,” the video concludes, which pretty much sums up the goal of the campaign—to remind people that there are way better things to read than clickbaity articles on the internet.
Ironically, though, the store’s captive audience probably already knows this. In September of last year, around the time “Litbait” launched, a Pew Research report found that 73 percent of Americans say they’ve read a book in the past 12 months, a figure that hasn’t changed much since 2012. And while ebooks have facilitated reading, 65 percent of American readers still read at least one book in print over that period.
Of this group, millennials are the most aggressive readers, with 88 percent of Americans under 30 saying they read a book over the past 12 months.
By and large, all this is good news. A campaign like “Litbait” shouldn’t be read as a last-ditch effort to revive reading, because people still read! But techniques like these, which playfully remind us of the relevance of classics, can only fuel the flames.
After all, what would you rather have at the end of your frenetic mouse-driven path—a listicle, or the witty and wicked words of Oscar Wilde?