Litbait: when classic literature meets clickbait culture
Last year, OxfordWords posted about the many different kinds of -bait, in response to the rise in clickbait culture that saturates new media sources. We’ve all seen those enticing listicles and outrageous articles that practically plead us to click and find out more, BuzzFeed as a prime example of a site heavily based on the clickbait model, but nowadays most any advertisements and many new sources or blogs feature clickbait headlines as well. In addition to the uptick in the use of the word ‘clickbait’, the suffix -bait has tacked itself onto a variety of other words to generate the likes of trollbait, likebait, queerbait, and foodiebait.
Now there’s a new kind of -bait to add to that list: litbait. Texan bookstore, The Wild Detectives, used the format of clickbait headlines to market books on their FaceBook page last year. Click on their link cleverly titled “British guy dies after selfie gone wrong” and you’re directed to the full text of A Portrait of Dorian Grey. The results? A 14,000 percent boost in their web traffic and a newly popularized Twitter hashtag where people from Germany to Korea have been trying their hand at generating new litbait headlines.
The style of litbait can on the one hand be seen as a tactic to get individuals to boost book sales, or even just increase readership. This might seem particularly appealing to stereotypical millennial sensibilities – the assumption that millennials’ attention can only be attracted in flashy, pithy statements that epitomize the clickbait format. However, according to this study by the Pew Research Center, millennials are currently the most voracious generation of readers. It seems that generation clickbait and literary interest really don’t stand too far at odds.
The litbait style certainly has proven to be a successful marketing tactic but it also parodies the oft-eye roll inducing clickbait model. While oftentimes clickbait articles fail to live up to the excitement of their title, the books advertised in the litbait headlines are far more nuanced and rich than the title lets on. Litbait dramatizes the absurdity of reducing a book down to its most clickbait moments – that’s part of the humor in describing a classic like Gulliver’s Travels as “Backpacker had the worst trip of his life when island tribe attacked him with poop”.
And the criticism to this approach proved few and far between with the response being overwhelmingly of enjoyment. Litbait is a pleasant twist, no doubt, on a not-so-old method. Is it enough to redeem the typically negative -bait suffix? Hard to say, but ‘litbait’ has already made waves far beyond the little Dallas bookstore!