Monday, 24 January 2011

The Future of Reading

I’m not convinced that initiatives to give away free books encourages a perception that books have value. I understand the rationale behind these initiatives which seek to engage new readers and promote particular authors. But I suspect the consequence of giving books away for free is that books will just become further devalued. Many readers say they never pay full price for a book – even though the average book will set you back the price of a couple of cups of coffee, or a couple of pints in the pub, and without revenue from readers, publishers and authors will largely disappear.
Bricks and mortar bookshops face huge competition from online suppliers, charity shops, supermarkets and free book campaigns – and that’s before considering the impact of ebooks. I’m passionate about the survival of bookshops and spend a lot of time in different branches of the major chains, and in libraries, talking to readers. I wish more authors would support bookshops and libraries in this way.

(Just in case the situation here continues to deteriorate, I’m building my intergalactic fanbase - you can see a few of them in the picture).

There is a more serious concern which is not how books will be delivered in future, but whether people will continue reading on a significant scale, with all the other forms of entertainment on offer. Today’s youngsters spend their time in front of television, computer or mobile phone screens and bookshops have their work cut out to attract them.

But it’s a campaign worth fighting and one they must win if they are to survive.

18 comments:

Star said...

I'm definitely with you on this one Leigh. I love book shops. You can't beat the atmosphere and I go in at least once a week and buy something. My husband has a Kindle and swears by it but so far I'm not convinced. I like to peruse the shelves - it's not the same on the computer screen. After all, we do need to get out and about and mix with other people. I can't spend all my time on the computer.
When I go into a bookshop, I first look for what's new, then my favourites, just to make sure I haven't missed anything. I look for bargains, yes. I keep a sharp eye on the charts, noting what's different in the U.S. compared to the U.K. and play all those games over and over. It's part of my life.
I expect that one day I will get a Kindle. I can see a use for it e.g. on the plane, during a 9 hour flight. It's light to hold, can be lit up and has access to online bookshops, but on a Saturday afternoon, where I want to be is in the bookshop.

Guillaume said...

Maybe we should not be too pessimistic. I went to Waterstone's and a library last Saturday and both were crammed.

Leigh Russell said...

You are definitely my kind of person, Star - although like you I'm sure I'll get a kindle at some point. But I'll still love books.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Guillaume. It's easy to complain that everything is getting worse and the future is all doom and gloom - but you're right. Things aren't that bad. I'm pleased you saw so many people in Waterstones and the library on Saturday!

Debs Carr said...

One of my favourite places to visit is a book shop, so I do hope they don't disappear.

My children don't read nearly as much as I do, which is sad, but I'm hoping they do so more as they get older.

HelenMHunt said...

Absolutely. I really worry about youngsters who don't read. They are missing out on so much.

Guillaume said...

I think what worries me more is the little choice we have in bookstores nowadays.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Debs - your children are obviously much younger than mine but hopefully they'll discover the joy of reading when they're a bit older, maybe when they're out of the pressure of having to read for thier education. But the general trend does seem to be for youngsters to read a log less than we did when I was young(er!)

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Helen, it's a real worry because reading is the key to so much - information, imagination, learning to think for yourself, understanding, knowledge... I could go on for pages and pages.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Guillaume - yes, you're right. Dedicated bookshoops like Waterstones carry quite a range of books, but WH Smith's stores generally don't have space to offer such a wide choice, and as for supermarkets...

Candance O'Donnell said...

I am so with you on this one as well. Our writing is important to us and we need to tell everyone that we work hard. By devaluing our work others are saying that crap is what comes from our hands. NOT RIGHT!

Leigh Russell said...

It's certainly hard work, Candance. I was editing my WIP until 3.30 this morning and then did a further 9 hours today. That's working hard!

fizzycat said...

I wish I could bottle the atmosphere and scent (some shops smell lovely!)of a good bookshop,take it home and pop it on something like an oil burner.Sheer bliss.
I might buy a kindle or similar to keep certain titles on to stop my house filling with reads but I could never give up on books.

Leigh Russell said...

I do think there's a place for both books and ereaders, fizzycat. I can see that kindles are amazing if you're travelling, for example. But they'll never replace books, will they?

Pat said...

No kindles won't replace books but have their place eg at the moment I struggle to support Keith Richard's autobiography when I'm reading in bed and Diana Atwill's 'Life Class' weighed a ton!

Jen Brubacher said...

What you say here: "Many readers say they never pay full price for a book – even though the average book will set you back the price of a couple of cups of coffee, or a couple of pints in the pub, and without revenue from readers, publishers and authors will largely disappear."

It just makes me so sad! Why don't people want to pay for books? Do they feel ripped off by the experience?

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Pat, ereaders can be more convenient and practical, and I agree, there's a place for both. As with so much 'progress' I just worry that we're rushing ahead with what's possible without considering the ramifications.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, it just devalues the whole idea of books. How many books can you buy for the price of a packet of cigarettes? And a book can stay with you for life.