One of the more amusing aspects of watching publishing evolve is seeing what the next sound-bite excuse will be for perceived falling sales of books.
“Screen fatigue” enjoyed a fleeting fifteen minutes of fame recently as publishers and their spokesfolk struggled to come up with reasons other than deliberate price hikes as to why mainstream-published ebook sales were falling.
Audiobooks also became the bogeyman as audio downloads soared, and then the “print revival” came along to explain yet again why ebooks were in a death spiral.
Which of course explains in no way whatsoever why OverDrive saw increased downloads of both ebooks and digital last year, with ebooks outperforming audio by a factor of 2-1.
But as the 2020s drew to a close, someone who had spent too much time listening to the doom-mongers explaining how everyone was bingeing on Netflix, came up with the “Attention Economy”.
No-one thought to explain how, if people were so fatigued by looking at a screen, they could then abandon ebooks to watch Netflix on a screen. But who cared? This new “Attention Economy” sound-bite was so much more majestic and meaningful. It was so cool it could almost be true. Almost.
This week comes news from Orbit, publisher of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series of translated-from-Polish books, that they’ve been negatively impacted by Netflix screening its adaptation of The Witcher on its streaming service.
So there we have it. Proof positive that the attention economy exists.
But hold on. That negative impact Orbit experienced because everyone was bingeing on the Netflix adaptation of The Witcher?
Orbit didn’t have enough books printed to meet demand, and has had to dash off an extra half million copies. And that ls quite apart from the ebook and audiobook sales, all of which are said to be “phenomenal.”
Talking to Publishers Weekly, Orbit’s Tim Holman said,
We’re thrilled that the Netflix adaptation is introducing The Witcher, and Andrzej Sapkowski’s wonderful books, to a whole new audience. The series has already been a huge success, with more than two million copies sold across all formats, and sales this month have been phenomenal. With a season two already confirmed by Netflix, our feeling is that The Witcher is all set to be one of the biggest fantasy series of the year—and perhaps the decade.
Yep, publishing can’t possibly compete in the era of the “Attention Economy”. There just isn’t enough time in the day to watch Netflix and fit in a book as well.