Monday, 25 January 2016

A New Breed of Bookseller

I used to worry that ebooks would lure young people away from reading to online games, which offer a superficial dumbed down kind of story. I wrote a post about my dystopian vision, my answer to Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451'. But so far the rise of ebooks does not seem to be leading readers away from books. Quite the opposite, in fact, as ebooks seem to be reaching out to increasing numbers of readers. 

As with higher education, you cannot hope to engage a wider audience without compromising on standards to some extent. But is any strand of culture necessarily superior because it is accessible only to a narrow - some might say narrow-minded - intellectual elite? The highbrow intelligentsia can continue to enjoy reading and writing challenging literary books, in the same way that University Challenge reassures us that there are still students who are exceptionally brilliant and knowledgeable. That has not changed. 

What is happening, I suspect, is that with the advent of cheap accessible ebooks, more and more people are enjoying commercial or popular fiction, just as increasing numbers of youngsters benefit from higher education. And that can only enhance the lives of those individuals, and society as a whole, as people become more educated and better informed, from formal studies and through wider reading.

The way readers discover new books has also opened up. Big publishers invest heavily in their blockbusters, which are promoted with marketing budgets running to hundreds of thousands of pounds. In the face of such competition, how do unknown - sometimes self-published - authors slip past the big names to reach Number 1 on kindle? Their success can only be explained by the potential for communication, and product accessibility, offered by the Internet. 

Word of mouth recommendation has always influenced our buying habits to some extent, but before the explosion in social media it could operate only on a small scale. Now a recommendation online, together with a link, can be a relatively powerful marketing tool. 

We are witnessing the emergence of a new breed of bookseller. They are not professional book reviewers, or book sellers in High Street bookshops. They are not book clubs or shop displays funded by publishers. They are readers who have found their voice on social media websites, blogs and online book clubs. The reading world is becoming a democracy. Let's hope people vote to read more! 

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