Evaluating Self-Help — How Much Are You Asked to Invest?

COINING 20Before the Internet, the state-of-art technology for communicating ideas was the printed book.

Today, however, it’s often easier and cheaper for authors to connect with audiences through websites that offer ebooks, audio, video, webinars, online communities, and online courses.

All this is a boon for people who like to learn from non-print media. But there’s also a potential cost to us, and it’s measured directly in time and money.

Online content can eat up your time

Do you ever get frustrated with bloggers who post audios or videos instead of writing?

You can’t scan video or audio posts to decide if they’re worthy of your attention.

You can’t skim subheadings to get the main points.

It’s hard for you to slow down or speed up an online presentation, skip the irrelevant parts, or filter out the fluff.

With online media, you’re typically forced to consume a presentation as a whole. And that can take hours.

In contrast, you can get the gist of a book chapter or blog post (even a long one) in a few minutes.

Online content can cost more — a lot more

A nice, new hardcover book can set you back $25. That’s not cheap.

But compare that amount to the cost of many online courses, which add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars — and require far more time to consume than a book.

Online content requires rigorous crap-detecting

As Paul Graham eloquently explains, speakers can often dish out nonsense and get away with it.

Likewise, online presenters can utter non-sequiturs and convince people to buy their products.

What’s more, websites can look credible when they’re professionally designed — even if they convey crappy content.

Long-form text is still the medium par excellence for developing, refining, and testing ideas. Bullshit is much more likely to be exposed when it sits frozen on a page, subject to scrutiny by readers who slow down to ask: What’s really being said here? And is it true?

I look for multiple points of access to an author’s ideas with the core content in a book. If there’s no book at the center of the storm, that’s a red flag.

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