Fiction - better read, or watched?

February 07, 2017, 10:46 AM UTC

To read, or not to read? To watch, or not to watch? These questions are at the heart of the debate which rages across offices, dinner parties and pretty much, anywhere and, everywhere else.

Which is better, reading the book or watching the adaptation on screen? Using YouGov’s connected data, we were able to profile those who watch, and enjoy, Science Fiction books against those who watch Science Fiction TV and/ or movies to help us delve deeper into the battle between the book and the screen...

Reading is no longer the only way to enjoy famous pieces of fiction such as; Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock’, George R.R Martin’s ‘A Game of Thrones’ or John le Carre’s ‘The Night Manager’ - they can all now be watched too.

Nothing has fuelled the growth of on screen adaptations, such as these, like the growth of online streaming channels such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Sky Now TV. Sky Now TV boasts just under 1 million UK household subscribers and Amazon Prime 1.6 million, but it is Netflix which trumps the lot with over 5 million households across the UK current subscribers. And yet the most illustrative evidence of the success of these streaming channels is, not their customers bases per se but is, most probably the case of Amazon’s ‘Manchester by the Sea’. In 2016, ‘Manchester by the Sea’ became the first film produced by a digital streaming service to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars – a significant moment in the evolution of film, no doubt.

A quarter of us now watch up to 5 hours of TV on our PC or laptops, per week, and it’s hard to look past this increasing as most streaming channels introduce the feature of offline streaming for their customers. Science fiction is a genre which has seen a particular benefit from our increasing tendency to watch either as a compliment, or substitute, to reading. Philip K Dick’s ‘The Man in the High Castle’ has been a hit on Amazon Prime within the last year, for example, and looking into the future (no Sci-Fi pun intended) - Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Final Odyssey’ and Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ have both secured deals with producers - and there is more good news for those producers (as if there wasn’t enough already) as almost half of those surveyed through the Director’s Cut app (43%) agree that “Sci-Fi TV shows and films have improved in recent years”.

Looking into the profiles of those who enjoy science fiction books, and those who watch the genre on TV or at the movies, there is only really one stand out difference in the demographics between the two. Those who enjoy reading sci-fi books are considerably more likely to be 55 years or older – but perhaps this isn’t all that surprising as those over 55s are likely to have grown up in an era in which books were more available to them than were on screen adaptations. Beyond this, the differences between the two groups are relatively insignificant – despite what the media might have you think, millennials are no more likely to watch an on screen adaptation than they are to enjoy reading the book, for example.

And a similar story follows beyond demographic comparisons. There is no real difference between the groups when we compared them on how they rated ‘The Man in The High Castle’ (in book form), in their agreement that ‘artificial intelligence is just the next steps in evolution’ or their prediction that ‘the world is getting worse’ (over 2 out of 3 in both groups agree!). Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, as every true Sci-Fi fan knows, but these lack of differences between the two groups might mean that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Why can’t reading the original be just as enjoyable, or unenjoyable, as watching the on screen adaptation?

Which is it for you - the book, the screen… or both?