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EditorialsUpFront 10/19

UpFront 10/19

Many decades ago, I started a small company with a couple of friends. We had become tired of clocking on for someone else’s benefit and decided to launch ourselves into the world of corporate video production. To begin with, our main clients were book publishers. The issue for them in those days was the fact that their sales reps never had the time to read all the books they were selling. So they were often unable to offer a juicy story that might tempt a bookshop owner to order a large number of new titles. Consequently, our job was to make 2 or 3-minute videos about the books for the reps to watch. We would be given an outline story and would then create an audio-visual preview of the book—a bit like a film trailer. In some cases, the book hadn’t even been finished before we got to work. But whether it was a new Dick Francis novel or a book of David Bailey photographs, our job was to make it interesting in less than 3 minutes. Other than the occasional mishap, like nearly burning down a studio while setting fire to an artificial spider web for Iain Banks’ Wasp Factory, or falling out with a very grumpy Spike Milligan on an early morning shoot, it was an interesting and educational time. Today publishing has changed and the need for sales reps to visit individual bookshops equipped with knowledge of every book they are selling (or at least the story gained from a 3-minute video) is rare. But what surprised me recently was a comment from a video producer that the average time he had to get a message across was between 20 and 30 seconds. Marketers using social media have long been involved in a discussion about attention span, or the dwindling rate of it, while sociologists, psychologists, and teachers have talked about a developing problem caused by the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO). A study, conducted by a team of European scientists earlier this year, concluded that social media now produces so much competition for our attention that our mental resources have become too densely packed. This has made it hard to retain and process information, let alone take in news and cultural messages. An article published in 2015 suggested that we now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish, and while that claim was unsubstantiated and probably designed to get attention, there is little doubt that to focus properly we need to pull back from our use of information tech. So with such a fantastic line-up of literary events around the local area over the next few months, perhaps the answer is to switch off the phone and read a book.

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