Going to try hard not to jump on a high horse because I’m aware that I fall into this category too. In fact, I think most people have lost part of their attention span and that makes selling books a lot harder. With the Internet and streaming services, you get instant gratification when it comes to entertainment. Add video games and all the apps on smartphones to the list as well. You want a laugh? A funny clip is at your fingertips. Need to relax? Apple has an app for that. So, why do books have a problem with an impatient and easily distracted population?
Well, it takes a lot more effort to enjoy a book. You only have to sit back and watch shows and movies. Many people toss them on for background while doing something else, so they don’t even pay full attention. There’s also a pause button that you can hit and it’s a smoother transition to get back into a show than a book. Video games require effort, but you’re heavily involved and influence the actions of those on the screen. Music requires listening and art can be admired with no strain. Books need you to read the words, turn the pages, and imagine what is going on instead of them being clearly shown or heard by your senses. A lot of mental processes are working here to make that book act as a source of entertainment.
And there you have the problem. In a world where people are easily distracted by external and internal stimuli, books have an uphill battle. Audiobooks have an edge, but that’s not possible for every author because those aren’t done cheap. Even those tend to be designated for exercise or driving, so they lose out to the higher octane forms of entertainment. In general, books are seen as a chore to read by many people, which I think comes from how we’re taught. When I was in school, I had so many reading assignments that I felt like I could never read for fun. I rebelled in 11th grade and read what I wanted while ignoring the school stuff. This isn’t what most people do though. I have run into so many people who don’t like books because it was a chore and they don’t have time for it. So, the impatience with reading is inadvertently begun as we grow up thanks to a system that forces the issue. With a bigger focus on non-fiction or realistic fiction, those of us in more fantastical genres have a greater challenge if we want to get attention.
My cynical side is starting to get stronger because of this attention span issue. I’m starting to believe that a new fantasy or science fiction author can only make it if they get a movie or TV show first. People need to get the instant gratification of the series from an electronic medium before they even think of putting more effort in. It’s like a new version of the caveat ‘you need to have an audience to get published, but you need to be published to get an audience’. It’s all very frustrating.
How do you combat against a growing disinterest in books? Is this even a real thing or am I looking at the wrong numbers? I remember posting about how it felt like people weren’t reading as much as they used to, but many disagreed. I noticed that they spoke of their own circles though. We do attract those with similar interests, so readers would be surrounded by readers. So, it’s hard to tell what is reality and what is only something within my circle. On the other hand, there is a long list of movies and shows that exploded in popularity then brought the books along. Honestly, ‘Game of Thrones’ was relatively unknown outside of fantasy enthusiasts until it got a series. ‘The Witcher’ is getting new editions released thanks to its Netflix show. I mean, it isn’t that far-fetched to think that books are falling to low attention spans unless they find a way to get into the other mediums. Where do indie authors go with that path?