Image copyright BBC / Rediff
If you’ve been watching streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, you might wonder why we spend so much time looking at our phones.
The one thing they all have in common is content that’s absolutely impossible to watch in one sitting.
It’s not just TV shows either, but those long-form literary series with highly atmospheric plots and pulse-pounding violence you’d think audiences might want to watch over and over again.
But, according to data from services such as AddThis, most people watching on-demand or live streams aren’t even paying attention.
Image copyright AddThis Image caption Reading expert Mike MacShane says people will only want to read at leisure
The top 20-minute-long books on US charts, according to AddThis, are mostly fantasy – now some of the hottest genres on these platforms – and less than a third of those are in English.
“Americans are downloading English-language books – none of them fantasy – mainly in marketing budget terms,” said Alex Goldfrank of AddThis.
“People might be looking to consume them over the internet but they also consume them at leisure.”
Among readers who stream data from AddThis, native language has dominated for some time.
But Chinese authors are now working their way up the pile. In fact, several books listed on the apps are about dragons: Ten Tales of Dragon Lady by Cai Wensheng, Dragon Swords by Xu Jingming, Dragon Rengun by Li Ping and Dragon Ma Yaemian by Kuo Shu.
‘The secret to success for a fantasy writer is staying true to your roots’
– Mike MacShane, UK editor, Booklist
“China has become such a huge market for reading that we have seen a nice trend developing in the genre of fantasy,” said Mike MacShane, UK editor of Booklist.
“To do that you need to have a love of the culture and a love of fantasy literature.”
One of the stars of the genre these days is Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo, whose detective novels have been translated into over 40 languages.
“The secret to success for a fantasy writer is staying true to your roots,” said Mr MacShane.
“The trick is to make sure the source material you’re writing is very true to the original novel – in his case, the 13th-century Scandinavian writer Jo Nesbo.”
‘We shouldn’t get so hung up on genres’
– Barbara Shim, editor of the Best Crime/Underworld Paperback Guide
For all the energy devoted to genre fiction, most people prefer reading fiction that’s specific to their taste.
When, last year, we launched The Best Crime/Underworld Paperback Guide, we were surprised at how many readers asked for non-fiction novels such as Ian Rankin’s Piers Plowman, Jonathan Lethem’s untitled novel or Edgar Allen Poe’s stories.
But the biggest show is still Still Alice, the bestselling US novel of the past decade. It’s about the life of a professor afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s who is profoundly affected by it.
“The show has only just come out in the UK,” said Barbara Shim, editor of the paperback guide.
“We must not get so hung up on genres. For many people, detective fiction is the genre they want.”
In 2015, a survey of world literature written since the Middle Ages revealed that no title contained the words “comics” or “graphic novels”.
In fact, the first, most famous novel to appear in the genre was the 17th-century French adventure tale The Spirit of the Bebop.
Five centuries later, we’ve come a long way. But the demand for comics of the kind we all seem to love is still rising.
We can’t put a time limit on our obsession. But it’s certainly taking a toll on our attention spans.