Goldfish have longer attention spans than Americans, and the publishing industry knows it

A goldfish for sale swims in an aquarium at a market in Kuwait City.

On Friday, Netflix will unveil its second season of House of Cards, and fans are chomping at the bit.

Can you say binge watching, anyone?

But it turns out it's not just TV we want to binge on.

Books, too.

The New York Times published an article that described something called "series publishing." It's not an entirely new concept, but it's a big pivot away from the one-title-per-year model most of the industry has been abiding by for decades.  

Publishers are now rolling out shorter books faster and faster, and Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn says it's largely because we're getting less attentive and more anxious:

"The average American attention span in 2013 was about 8 seconds. The average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds. And then get this kicker - the average attention of a goldfish is 9 seconds."


About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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Samantha_cs, so your attention span was 20 minutes to do the research. I think that highlights the difference between focused attention, which has a length of about 8 (or 5, depending on who you ask) seconds, and sustained attention, which is more like 20 minutes. I think people confuse these two. I know I did....

I am very skeptical too. I actually do not believe that Americans' attention span is THAT high!
Our memory is not much better, either.
Perhaps it has to do with our living in a transparent glass bowl?

Perhaps a little more attention ought to be paid to attention span statistics.

i found the website Ms. Koehn got her information from. It cites, as sources "National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press." which, needless to say, is not particularly helpful when trying to backtrack the statistic source.

A little more searching revealed a study commissioned by Lloyd TSB, an insurance company, in 2008 which gave an 'attention span' figure of 5 minutes, down from 12 minutes a decade ago. Again, no details on the specific measurements or tests made.

In fact, i was unable to find hard data on any attention span statistics in the 20 minutes or so i spent looking. Most websites reference the website Ms. Koehn looked at which, in turn, appears to reference the Associated Press. Last i knew, the AP was not a source of scientific data.

So color me skeptical.

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