Attention Deficit

Whole business empires are now founded upon that most fleeting of things, at once profound and perfunctory, the human gaze. In buzzword bingo "attention economy" is a winning ticket. In this model of super abundant information invisibility is a function of excess and simply being noticed becomes the prerequisite for sucess, whether this is measured in monetary terms or by other criteria. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Go into any bookstore and what you notice is hardly an absence of choice, title vying against stylishly covered title for our hungry eyes. Indeed Reuters claims that the UK has now overtaken the US as the country with the most books published per annum, with over 206,000 books published in 2005 alone.

Even as our frazzled attention spans are being catered for by five second ad slots and continuous partial attention becomes our default the deluge of books expands. Media coverage of literature contracts. The result is that the publishing space is crowded, an attention addicted junkie with not enough eye balls to satisfy its craving.

And then along comes the web.

Here is the issue: despite the attention competition in the current bibliographic climate once you've walked into a bookshop your attention is focused on books. Ok, some bookshops sell cds and dvds but by and large you are almost exclusively surrounded by print objects in that environment.

In the AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) model once you are in a bookshop the action is likely to be a book purchase.

On the web this is not the case, as there is no singular destination where books are the sole option (other websites are only a click away).

Take Amazon. You might search for a book, but this doesn't mean that only books will come up. This might not seem a problem, but if attention is a currency it has, in book terms, been devalued in that seconds glance.

Google is supposed to create greater attention efficiencies- PageRank is designed to send us where our attention most wants to go. However let's say we are interested in Doctor Who on a particular day. Say we are standing outside a bookshop. We would likely go in and devote our "Doctor Who attention" to a book in that shop. In that time slice the Doctor Who book has our attention and possibly the rest.

In the week that the BBC has upgraded it's (hugely popular) iPlayer Google is more likely to send us there than to the Amazon book page. Whatsmore even if we were searching for something much more specifically bookish we are only ever a click away from something beyond the orbit of books.

My point then is that the web might exacerbate issues surrounding the value of people's attention for publishers by diluting-eradicating- the singular focus possible in both physical spaces and traditional formats (literary magazines etc).

When time is a currency a publisher's main competitors are Playstations, House box sets and Twitter. It's a not a new point but one that bears repeating.

The answer is clearly not a retreat from the web, a manoeuvre that would only serve to completely remove the genuine positive opportunities presented by the web in both delivering content and connecting with new and existing readers. In truth there is no easy answer. Yes it means everyone has to learn how to eke out every last drop of value from the web. It's still a challenge. But it's a challenge we should relish. It means that publishers really have to ensure there stuff is worth its weight in attention gold.

My guess is that this is what publishers, writers, readers, in fact anyone involved with books and texts at any level, is into anyway.