The ROI of Reading

Special edition of The Reading Life coming at ya today.

My book breakdown of An Iron Will won’t be ready until Monday, but I’ve been reading a phenomenal book called The Art of Impossible, by Steven Kotler, and I can’t wait to share his thoughts with you on the ROI of reading.

My guess is that you’ll understand EXACTLY what he’s talking about :)

That whole part of the book about learning is one of the best things I’ve read all year. Out of 37 books so far!

Seriously. Highly recommend the book (I’m about halfway through right now).

But first, my friend Jason C. Fox just launched a completely free 5-Day Challenge showing coaches how to book sales calls DAILY and convert clients DAILY.

Jason is one of the BEST people I know when it comes to Lead Generation and Converting clients, and so if you’re any of these things:

  • Coach

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  • Copywriter

  • Video Editor

On each day of the challenge he will cover a new topic, from Content Creation to how he makes $5k an email(!), to how to book 3 sales calls a day in DMs, to how to automate your business with A.I.

And much more. 

All you have to do is click on this link, enter your name and email, and you’re all good to go!

But now let’s talk about the ROI of reading!

In The Art of Impossible, Steven Kotler, world-renowned flow researcher (the psychology of peak performance) breaks down the science - the neurobiology, mainly - of insane, superhuman achievement.

We’re talking, like, change-the-world, colonize the solar system, solve world hunger-type achievements that human beings spend their whole lives chasing - and some even achieve.

There’s a science to it, an art, and his book is a huge, fascinating overview of it all. But the section on reading is what caught my eye the most so far.

Here’s where Kotler describes how reading a book is like exchanging five hours of your time for fifteen years of the author’s life:

“There’s a value proposition at work here. You give an author your time in exchange for their ideas. So let’s break down the exact nature of this trade. We’ll start with blogs.

The average adult reading speed is about 250 words per minute. The average blog post is about 800 words long. This means that most of us read the average blog post in three and a half minutes. So what did you get for those minutes?

Well, in my case, about three days’ worth of effort. For a typical blog, I usually spend about a day and a half researching a topic and an equal amount of time writing.

The research mainly involves reading books and articles. I also talk to experts. If the topic is in my wheelhouse, usually one or two conversations suffice. Outside my wheelhouse kicks that up to three or four. The writing usually requires some more reading and an extra conversation or two and the hard work of putting words together in a straight line.

That’s the value exchange. Your three and a half minutes in exchange for me digesting fifty to one hundred pages’ worth of material, then spending three to five hours talking about it, then spending another day and a half adding in my new ideas and restructuring the whole result into something to read.

Now, let’s look at a long-form magazine article, the kind you would find in Wired or The Atlantic Monthly. These articles are usually about 5,000 words long, meaning it takes the average person twenty minutes to read. So, again, what do you get in return for your twenty minutes?

In my case, you get about a month of research before the actual reporting starts, another six weeks spent reporting (figure twenty-five conversations with experts and far more reading), and another six weeks of writing and editing. So, in return for you agreeing to give my words about twenty minutes of your time, you’re getting access to about four months of my brain power, labor, whatever.

I think, if you look at it this way, you’ll see the average magazine article makes for a fairly good trade. Your time as a reader quintuples, but my time as an author has increased thirtyfold - and that’s a fairly incredible bargain.

But a book is an entirely different ball game.

Let’s take The Rise of Superman, my book on flow and the science of ultimate human performance. The book is around 75,000 words long, so it takes the average reader about five hours’ worth of effort. So what do you get for your five hours?

In the case of Rise, about fifteen years’ worth of my life.”

The tl;dr?

Blogs: Three minutes gets you three days. 

Articles: Twenty minutes gets you four months.

Books: Five hours gets you fifteen years.

Fifteen years of knowledge and wisdom for just five hours of my time? That’s a trade I’ll take every time! And it’s a trade I make at least 100+ times per year.

But this leads us to an interesting question…

“So why is it better to read books than blogs? Condensed knowledge.

If you go on a blog bender and spend five hours reading my blogs, at three and a half minutes per blog, you’ll manage to slog through about eighty-six of them - thus you’re trading those five hours for 257 days’ worth of my effort.

Meanwhile, if you had spent those same five hours reading Rise, you would have gotten 5,475 days. Books are the most radically condensed form of knowledge on the planet. Every hour you spend with Rise is actually about three years of my life. You just can’t beat numbers like that.

Certainly, there are other information streams available. Maybe you’re just not a reader. Maybe talks are your thing. Perhaps documentaries. Unfortunately, while talks and documentaries are great for igniting curiosity, neither approaches the information density of books.

Put it this way: I give a handful of speeches a month, typically in the one-hour range. If I’m talking flow, that hour gets you the information contained in a couple of blogs, twenty pages of Rise, and another twenty from Stealing Fire. Maybe a few stories that didn’t show up in the books added for spice.

Altogether, it’s seventy pages of text for an hour of your time. Seems like an okay trade. But here’s the rub - you’re missing the details.

Again, take Rise. The listener gets twenty pages from the book, but only one, maybe two, details per page. But the book actually contains more information.

The reader’s detail count is four to eight facts a page, plus a much longer time period to process that information. It’s the medium dictating terms to the message. It’s also basic neurobiology.”

Okay, so blog posts and TED Talks will never replace books - at least not completely. But what else? Is reading just for those of us who are more interested in the details than most people?

Turns out there’s even more to love about books…

“Moreover, books pay performance dividends. Studies find that they improve long-term concentration, reduce stress, and stave off cognitive decline. Reading has also been shown to improve empathy, sleep, and intelligence.

If you combine these benefits with the information density books provide, we start to see why everyone from tech titans like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk to cultural icons like Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban, and Warren Buffett credit their success to their incredible passion for books.”

So there you have it. The multitude of reasons why books remain undefeated, and why readers hold advantages that are simply unavailable to those who don’t avail themselves of these fantastic repositories of worldly wisdom.

But towards the end of the chapter, Steven Kotler shared this really cool story about the owner of a magic shop he used to frequent as a small boy.

As soon as you walked in, customers would see this giant wall of books COVERING the entire back wall of the story - prime real estate that immediately caught your eye before you saw anything else.

But that was a problem.

People went to that store to buy magic kits, playing cards, capes, etc. Not books.

So why devote an entire wall to them - and prime real estate, no less - if they weren’t going to sell?

Steven brought this up to the owner one day, and he replied:

“The books stay where they are.”


“Books,” he said with a smile, “books are where they keep the secrets.”

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OK, that’s it for now…

More excellent book recommendations coming your way soon!

If you’re a coach, consultant, or basically any kind of service provider whose business relies on signing up clients, don’t forget about Jason Fox’s free, 5-Day Challenge!

And if you’d like me to buy you a new book every month, join us inside The Competitive Advantage and that’s exactly what I’ll do - we’d love to have you!

With that said, I hope you enjoyed this edition of The Reading Life, and enjoy the rest of your week!

Until next time…happy reading!

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

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