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Who Can Save the World from Netflix?

June 15, 2018

(image via wikimedia)

This one is tough to write.  As popular as Netflix is, the binge watching that it’s encouraged has some really bad side effects.  Viewers get bad posture and poor eyesight from staring at their phones.  Viewers are too eager to spoil details, and binge watchers get too angry when something is ruined.

The latest side-effect (and maybe the worst) is that binge watchers end up reading fewer books.  This comes from a German study (discussed here) that might or might not be flawed.  I’m not an expert on these kinds of studies.  I always assume a study is flawed in a major way, unless I agree with its premise, and then I’ll give it a chance.  The results of this study make sense to me.  Plus it’s a German study.  The stereotype is that Germans are efficient (maybe TOO efficient), so if I’m going to believe a study, I’d believe a German study.  Even without the study, I can understand why Netflix would lead to less reading.

There’s been a progression in TV viewing over the last 50 years.  At first, there were only three television stations (PBS didn’t count), and they’d go off the air sometime between 11:30 and 1:00.  In other words, TV was over for the day.  When that happened, kids would either read or go to bed.  Then we got cable, with hundreds of stations, most of which were on 24 hours a day.  You could sit with a remote control and click indefinitely to see what was on.  Then came the internet, and then you could click and scroll indefinitely.  Now with social media, you can click, scroll, comment, and post pics of yourself indefinitely.

Next comes the binge watching.  The word binge has always had a negative connotation.  If you binged food, you ate too much and sometimes had to purge (and that is really disgusting).  If you binge drank, you intentionally got drunk, and then got into fights, passed out, crashed your car, or slept with somebody else who was drunk.  All of that is bad.  Binge watching is bad too because ten hours straight of almost anything is bad.  Even ten hours of reading is bad (Get up and exercise, you bookworm!).

Of course, all that Netflix binge watching is going to keep people from reading.  According to the study mentioned earlier, the number of people buying books in Germany decreased almost 20% between 2013 and 2017, and a major reason was the binge watchable shows provided by Netflix and other streaming services.  There’s only so much time in a day.  If a person is going to spend three hours a day online (and much of that binge watching shows), then that doesn’t leave much discretionary time for reading books.

Netflix has a weakness, though, which I call Netflix Syndrome, and it applies to a lot of current TV shows.  When you design a TV series around binge watching, individual episodes become meaningless.  I’ve seen a few series where you can fast forward through unnecessary subplots and watch a ten-episode series in less than three hours.  Binge watching turns into speed watching, and you can release spoilers before anybody else has finished watching the whole thing.  My daughter has already started doing this (“Nothing really happens until episode 8, and then OH MY GOD!!”- I’ve overheard her say) With so much dead time in their shows, viewers can become bored very quickly.

This Netflix Syndrome gives books an opportunity to make a comeback.  If my daughter and I are bored by Netflix Syndrome, others will be too and pretty soon.  As much as I hate to say this, famous author James Patterson has a decent model to compete with Netflix users.  Ugh, James F***ing Patterson.  I hate giving James Patterson credit for anything, but he kind of has the right idea; write short, simple books with lots of action.  Unfortunately, Patterson overdoes it with two-page chapters, overuse of clichés and mixed metaphors, bad unrealistic dialogue, and over the top cheesiness.

For example, his Bookshots a couple summers ago had potential, but the writing was so cheesy/crappy that the books couldn’t be taken seriously.  Bookshots was a stupid name too, and I couldn’t tell who the intended audience was.  Even though the books were short (as if intended for YA), the subject matter in some of the books was adult.  If I were a fiction author with clout (and maybe more talent), I’d follow the Patterson model without insulting the readers.  I’d be clear/consistent with the intended audience.  And I wouldn’t call it Bookshots.

Despite all that, James Patterson has a chance to save readers from the addiction of binge watching.  I can’t do it.  I have only a blog.  He has millions of dollars, millions of readers, and relationships with politicians.  If anybody can save the book industry from Netflix, it’s James Patterson.

Who am I kidding?  He’ll probably sign a 50 series deal with Netflix.  Why save books when you can help take over the world?


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  1. The Rat Race of Writing Gets More Ridiculous | Dysfunctional Literacy

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