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Shorter Attention Spans

12 October 2017

From Shelf Awareness:

“You have whole generations being trained for shorter attention spans than books require,” said Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, during the annual CEO Talk at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Wednesday.

. . . .

Reidy described the battle for the consumer’s attention and time as the “main thing,” the “number one challenge” facing publishers, and one that has gotten only more critical since the advent of things like social media and especially video streaming services. She said it behooves publishers to “make sure in every way we can” that books remain “central to the discussion of what’s going on in the culture.” At the same time, Reidy and Dervieux agreed that for all of the dangers that they pose, social media does provide new opportunities for reaching consumers more directly than ever before and for finding new authors to publish, whether they be Youtubers, bloggers or Instagram poets.

“I’m not so sure that we should be so anxious about it,” said Dervieux. “For the moment, no indie author has said to us, ‘no, I prefer to stay [independent], I don’t want to have my book published.’ “

When asked whether today’s hostile political climate factors into decisions on what books to publish, Reidy answered that it does, adding that things have gotten so contentious that people of opposing viewpoints often “don’t even want to understand” the other side. She said that S&S has always “made a point” of publishing points of view “from all sides” and “books we feel can help elucidate the conversation,” and she suggested that the industry “would be in trouble” if publishers decided to publish only books “we all agree with.”

“The real question is the books that don’t make us as comfortable, and should we be publishing those too,” said Reidy. She encouraged publishers to “make sure that we stay open to cogent and well done books of all points of view, so that the discussion can continue on the level that we as publishers can hopefully help provide.”

. . . .

On the subject of self-published and independent authors, Reidy said that self-publishing has certainly caused traditional publishers to lose some customers; in particular the market for mass market romance novels has all but “dried up.” What used to be a huge paperback market, she explained, has largely gone to digital original. But while self-publishing may cause some consumers and authors to turn away from the traditional system, it also affords publishers an opportunity to “make the case of what it is we provide,” which Reidy described as everything from “the editorial and marketing to legal representation and copy-editing.” Dervieux, meanwhile, said that he did not think self-publishing was a competitor, but may actually be “the exact opposite of what we are doing.”

Noting that it’s been 10 years since the mainstream adoption of e-books began, Reidy and Dervieux talked about why they think the dire predictions of the death of print have not come to pass. Reidy proposed that while nothing “went wrong” with e-books to cause the leveling-off of their popularity, consumers most likely simply “got tired of screens.” She noted that for years before e-books, publishers had been “taking pennies out of the cost of making a book,” but when digital became widespread, publishers began “spending years putting value back into the book.” Dervieux wondered if perhaps the industry expected “too much, too soon,” from the e-book format, and remarked that even by the “grace of Jeff Bezos and huge discounts,” such a large shift in consumer habits could not happen in such a hurry.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Big Publishing, Ebooks

12 Comments to “Shorter Attention Spans”

  1. On the point about attention spans, nope:
    https://the-digital-reader.com/2015/05/11/heres-another-reason-not-to-fear-short-attention-spans-the-slow-reading-movement/

    and more nope:
    https://the-digital-reader.com/2015/05/11/no-attention-spans-are-not-getting-shorter/

    To recap, there have been times where I have started and finished an entire book series in one go. It took me weeks to do this, but the books still held my attention during that time.

    Also, if your books can’t keep someone’s attention then perhaps you should publish books that keep their attention rather than whining about “kids these days”.

  2. Dexter von Dexterdorf

    She said that S&S has always “made a point” of publishing points of view “from all sides” and “books we feel can help elucidate the conversation,” and she suggested that the industry “would be in trouble” if publishers decided to publish only books “we all agree with.”

    I wonder if this policy is only in regards to the big name politicos who are guaranteed to sell a couple million copies, or if this policy also extends to fiction authors whose themes bring the other side to light? My guess: probably not.

    Reidy proposed that while nothing “went wrong” with e-books to cause the leveling-off of their popularity, consumers most likely simply “got tired of screens.”

    I’m a millennial who spends 8-10 hours a day at work looking at screens, works out while looking at screens, and then sits on the couch and looks at screens. To me, physical books are a reprieve. And yes, we do own a Paperwhite, but usually just use it to check out books through our local library on Overdrive so we don’t have to drive to the library or drive to a dropoff location when the book comes due). The other reason I find myself buying physical books are for gifts. My dad, in particular, enjoys historical non-fiction and will often pass a book I get him on to several people to read.

    Now, I’m not a print snob by any means, but I also know that there is a large contingent of “look at how well read I am” folks who want people to see them read the newest treatise of the latest and most fashionable literary author. The kind of person who buys the hardcover version instead of waiting for it to get to mass market paperback.

    I don’t think print was ever going to die completely, but it is definitely being propped up by high e-book prices. Why on Earth would I buy a digital copy of anything if it’s more expensive than owning the physical copy? Shelf-space? Maybe, but not for the number of books the average casual reader reads. I think my generation has actually taken a cue from Netflix on this to where we don’t really value digital content; and we are also used to the content being available for only a limited amount of time; e.g how many shows on your watchlist have been removed before you were able to get to them?

    Ok, so here’s my big “HOWEVER”… It’s clear that publishers are underestimating a big chunk of the most voracious readers. The vitriol they have for e-books and the way they celebrate studies that might suggest a slight decline in digital readers is laughable. Do they not realize that’s a key market? That’s like a movie production company publicly celebrating that people aren’t renting their movie on Redbox, right? Not that I’m complaining, of course… happy to be able to price my fiction at $3.99 and be a discount to their outlandish prices for digital content.

    In the meantime, if digital books aren’t a threat to them… how about bumping up e-book royalties to their authors? 😉

    • re: screen fatigue

      I’m also a Millennial, and not only have almost all the jobs I’ve ever had involved staring at a screen, when I go home, most of the things I do in my leisure time involve screens (TV, writing, video games, etc.). It’s been that way pretty much my whole adult life, and I’ve never felt that, “I look at screens all day at work, why would I want to do that when I get home?” thing that people talk about. It’s just not a thing that bothers me at all. I do prefer to read books on paper, but that’s for different reasons.

      And speaking again of e-book pricing, I saw yesterday that one of my Amazon recommendations was the last in a series I had given up on. But I noticed the cover was different, so I had a look. It was also about half the length of the other books in the series, but I don’t know if that was at all related to the rest of this or not. Anyway, looking into it, it seems the author wasn’t happy with how her publisher was jerking her around and bought the book back to self-publish it. Which is great, right. Good for her. Except she’s got a less than 200-page book priced at $7.99 for the Kindle version, which kinda made me wince. And yep, most of the negative reviews mention the high price for the length. The author admits to not knowing much about self-publishing, and it kinda makes me feel bad, because I’m afraid if the book doesn’t do as well as she’d like, she’ll think the problem is that she self-published it and not that she priced the e-book above what most people are happy to pay for a book of that length. And she’s a big name author, so I’d really love to see her self-publish more of her future work.

      • “re: screen fatigue”

        Funny, I read just a bit (was reading something on the screen till past 3 last night) it was my yawning – not my eyes that made me stop (dang it, I wanted to see where the author had us going next!)

        The only thing I don’t read on a screen is what I can’t ‘get’ on the screen – or that they’ve overpriced.

        Screen fatigue is just another excuse made by those that can’t hold their audience.

        • I have a very simple question for the “screen fatigue” publishing people – how did they ever survive to still be around whining about their sales? Before computers became ubiquitous, their customers were looking at pieces of paper all day long – weren’t they subject to “paper fatigue” when they got home? Why would they want to look at even more pieces of paper for their entertainment? Yet, they did, for some reason…

          Of course, what is happening here is a classic deflection of the blame for their self-caused troubles. Besides those actions that are directly and solely their fault (absolutely horrible books, at ridiculous prices, destruction of their mid-list, etc.) – they have been ardent supporters of the Left as they destroy an already fragile educational system; the system that used to produce at least a modicum of people that could consume their products.

          No sympathy here, not in the least.

      • “…it seems the author wasn’t happy with how her publisher was jerking her around and bought the book back to self-publish it.”

        That sounds like Cornelia Funke.

  3. {She said that S&S has always “made a point” of publishing points of view “from all sides” and “books we feel can help elucidate the conversation,” and she suggested that the industry “would be in trouble” if publishers decided to publish only books “we all agree with.”}

    I wonder to what extent this is true regarding the political books she refers to. No doubt S&S publishes some books that disagree with what “we all agree with,” but I suspect an investigator would discover that there is a wild disproportion between what the editors approve of and what many potential readers would like to see.

  4. Me thinks the 3 Zillion people who read those door stopper Epic Fantasy books by G RR Martin and company were not consulted….

  5. Reidy and Dervieux agreed that for all of the dangers that they pose, social media does provide new opportunities for reaching consumers more directly than ever before and for finding new authors to publish, whether they be Youtubers, bloggers or Instagram poets.

    Does that mean they’re giving up on new novelists and those who don’t already have a following? Also, one could read that as meaning for all of the dangers Reidy and Dervieux pose. Which might not be so crazy, really.

    “I’m not so sure that we should be so anxious about it,” said Dervieux. “For the moment, no indie author has said to us, ‘no, I prefer to stay [independent], I don’t want to have my book published.’ “

    It seems to me that “for the moment” is the key part of that.

  6. “I’m not so sure that we should be so anxious about it,” said Dervieux. “For the moment, no indie author has said to us, ‘no, I prefer to stay [independent], I don’t want to have my book published.’“

    I have a feeling if they’ve talked to any authors like myself they’re only right here on a technicality. More than likely they didn’t hear “I don’t want to have my book published”, but they probably have heard “You’re terms are unacceptable and I can do better on my own, thanks.”.

    • Slight correction: the second statement is what the authors said. The first statement is what the folks at Simon and Schuster heard.

  7. If there’s such a thing as “screen fatigue,” then why do people love TV/Netflix/Amazon shows released all at once so we can stare at our screen for ten solid hours consuming them? How is that a “short attention span?”

    Write a good story, book or TV show or game, and no fatigue exists. For publishers, that means if you are seeing fewer readers, quit failing by buying the wrong books.

    I’m not quite sure what that fellow means by indie books not being tradpub’s competitors. Does he have a different definition of the word “competitor” than I do? Because it seems to me that something that has taken away 60%* of your profits in the past ten years might rightly be called “the competition.”

    * – I’m counting indie sales plus Amazon imprint sales

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