Saturday, July 07, 2012

A Bookless World?


I have to admit that I am alarmed at how few readers I have seen at airports, etc. on our recent travels. Not just books but newspaper reading seems almost non-existent. Remember when people bought magazines for their travels.

Now everyone is playing with their phones. I saw one huge fellow--had to be 6'6 carrying an ipod, an iphone, a laptop, an ipad and a basketball in his hands. He was prepared to do anything except read it seemed. I saw a table of four young women, all of whom were engaged with their phones rather than each other.

Did this disinterest in reading begin before the electronic revolution or did it begin then? Why is playing a game on your phone so enticing? Perhaps reading is harder than we thought. Keeping a narrative in your head with all these distractions is difficult.

Is there any way to get people reading again? If you were appointed the cabinet officer for reading what would you do? How will writers support themselves in the years ahead? Will we even have writers?

26 comments:

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, I often ask myself all these questions, especially how the IT and Telecom revolution is slowly edging out reading in India. I won't say reading is going out of fashion, at least not where I live. On the contrary, I'd say reading appears to be making a comeback: I now find more people reading newspapers, magazines and books during my one-hour commute to and from work everyday. The urban Indian is a good reader and pretty informed about national and international happenings. People are also thronging bookstores as well as roadside stalls, the latter for cheap pirated editions of costly paperbacks. Books are still expensive out here. The one trend I have noticed over the past decade is the growing demand for books related to self-help and positive thinking, management, and spiritualism, perhaps in the hope that it will help balance our 21st century stressful lives.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This makes me feel hopeful, Prashant. I thank you for sharing it. I think perhaps Indians value education and literacy more than we westerners.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I think people's reading habits are definitely changing. I certainly don't see people in airports and so on reading as they used to. But what I do see, for what it's worth, is the growth of e-reading. People are going to Smashwords and Amazon Kindle and getting things to read. Even more hopeful is that local libraries and bookstores are still holding weekly Storytime sessions for little ones. There are still lots of people who take the time to introduce babies, toddlers and young children to the beauty of a good story.

Anonymous said...

I think it did start before Apple took over the world but it has definitely accelerated the trend. I can still remember walking down the street in London one visit and being astonished at a guy talking on a cell phone. It doesn't seem all that many years ago either....

*goes to look for where he parked the geezer bus*


Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

From what I've read reading in India is a lot higher than it is here. We are invariably among a very few people actually reading on planes rather than playing games (what's up with that indeed?) or watching videos. Talking to each other? We're really in a minority there.

The whole checking-for-texts-every-twenty-seconds thing really does annoy me. We were eating lunch in a restaurant yesterday. A few feet away were a youngish couple with a little boy (1 or 2) and the sister (it appeared) of one of the couple (perhaps early 20s). While they talked and played with the little boy the sister occasionally chimed in a comment without ever looking up from her phone.

Jackie tells me I'm becoming an old fogey. Oh yeah, well stay off my lawn!


Jeff M.

Mike Dennis said...

Don't worry, Patti. We''l have writers. And plenty of them. Storytelling is the second-oldest profession in the world, and probably even predates the existence of professions themselves. From campfire tales and cave art all the way down to Kindle Fires, people who tell stories will always have an audience.

A lot of those people you saw at the airport may have been using their electronic gadgets for reading. It's entirely likely that people have already been born who will become voracious readers and yet, never hold a book in their hands.

Thomas Pluck said...

A lot of people read on their phones. I do, when I'm on a train. It's just easier to hold than a book, now that mass market paperbacks are going the way of the dodo.
I'd rather pay $10 for a mmppb I can hold in one hand than $9.99 for an e-book. Ya hear me, publishers?

As for mags and papers, they cost up to $9 an issue if you don't subscribe. And they are mostly ads. I wonder if print on demand to erase shipping costs would reduce the price. There are print on demand kiosks for books, but I think magazines are a better idea...

pattinase (abbott) said...

I doubt I will ever read of watch a movie on a phone but you never know. Maybe I will have to.

Charles Gramlich said...

I see a lot of folks playing with their phones too, which just seems incredibly boring to me. but maybe a few of them are reading on their phones. we can hope.

Joe Barone said...

Books may not be so dominant as they once were. Look at the number of people who would rather get their Reginald Hill or whomever from TV than from a book.

Nothing relaxes me like reading. Reading somehow calms my brain cells (I'm serious). But it doesn't bother me to read from a Kindle or a Nook. I feel no particular attachment to paperbound books as such. I just like to read.

Randy Johnson said...

I noticed years ago a a lack of reading in so many people. I even had one fellow say, "I haven't read a book since I got out of school," like it was something to be proud of. I've been asked the questions most readers get when people see my collection. "You read all these?" said in an almost incredulous manner.

Needless to say, those folks are no longer friends. Nothing in common.

But I have introduced a few folks to the pleasures of reading and they've gone on to find their own favorite writers, usually different from those I like.

Richard R. said...

Personally - gets of geezer bus with Jeff - I don't think looking at en e-book thingie on a small electronic device is much of a way to read. A BOOK, print on paper, that's reading to me, and I don't see much of it anywhere. Ever. Playing with a smart phone isn't smart, it's just twiddling, might as well be playing pong. It's all the rage, and a certain generation, coming on to two of them, know no better. Of course they'll all be blind by the time they're 50, but they don't care...

George said...

I still prefer reading a real book rather than an ebook. Devices like the iPhone and iPad are addicting. My students would rather play ANGRY BIRDS than read the WALL STREET JOURNAL.

Anonymous said...

Randy, a friend in England who has upwards of 30,000 books had the perfect answer when asked if he'd read All Those Books: "I'm just finishing up the last one."

I must admit that since the price of newspapers has risen so much I've given up buying a daily paper and read them online. We did get a bargain on the Sunday (only Sunday, not the Weekender) New York Times, so I get that delivered. The part I particularly enjoy is getting the book review, magazine, travel, arts & leisure and real estate sections on Saturday and the rest on Sunday.

While I prefer a "real" book I am getting used to the Kindle, especially as ebooks are sometimes the only format available for books and authors I want.

Jeff M.

michael said...

How does changing the container devalue the content? If I read a book a week on Kindle, it doesn't count because it is not on paper? If I read the Los Angeles "Times" online, I am not reading a newspaper?

Actually, we read more than ever before. The internet has opened content to read we never had access to before such as this blog.

I find it interesting the young whipper-snappers who don't read seem to enjoy reading text messages over talking on the phone.

People will always read. Why care how or on what they find the words?

Oh, remember the iPad/Kindle is preferred by many as mobile devices, that does not mean they don't have a bookshelf full of print books at home.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think we will find that the number of writers will shrink when they are getting paid as poorly as ebooks allow. Musicians are only still around because they perform live and earn money that way. Not so for writers.
Newspapers are dying every day. What a huge mistake to allow people to read free online. Why should they?
I love the Internet but it does cut into reading time. Like now! Thanks for your thoughts. Nick Hornsby has a long piece on this issue on THE BELIEVER MAGAZINE if it's still around.

michael said...

Interesting points, Patti. But considering the number of self-published books hitting the e-book market, I don't agree the number of writers will shrink. I have been writing for forty years and have been paid for my work, but, as most writers today, I never made a living at it. I wrote for the only reason any good writer writes, because I have to.

I'll look for the Hornsby piece. Thanks.

michael said...

The Nick Hornby column Patti mentioned can be read in part on line (or you purists can read the entire column in the print version of "The Believer" magazine - I think its the current issue).

http://www.believermag.com/issues/201207/?read=column_hornby

I hope I typed it correct.

I don't buy his argument. Read how the publishers and writers screamed it was the end of books as they know it because the printing press meant anyone could write a book. Read how the publishers screamed it was the end of books and bookstores because Penguin made the mass market paperback.

I totally agree the system is changing. The system has been changing since man wrote on caves.

My first love in reading is the syndicated newspaper comic strip. I have listened to my fellow fans worry that the end is coming. I have listened to cartoonists worried how they will make a living. Well, there are a growing list of brilliant web cartoonists making a very good living today. The form changed little and the creative talent found a way.

I am always amused when I read young people don't read. Or as Hornby jokingly wrote, "Your kids don't even know which way up they should hold a book!"

Who made Harry Potter a star? I am guess there are some young adults reading the hottest genre, YA.

Read the sales figures. Hardcovers still outsell e-books. Somebody is buying them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Your optimism is refreshing and I feel more hopeful now. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

There are three collections of Hornby's Believer review columns that are well worth reading and good for reading suggestions (not that most of us need more of those!). The titles are: The Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, and Shakespeare Wrote for Money.

My library had two of them and I found the third fairly cheaply on the internet.

Jeff M.

Jack Bates said...

I was in a jam-packed BN in Bethesda after the big storm that hit VA/DC/MD knocked out residential power. People were lining up to buy books. (btw- I thought DARE ME came out 7/1- that's why I was in there.) I think readers are in a flux. Something is going to happen in the next few years that will tip it to traditional books or electronic readers.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Jack- I was in Chevy Chase. We would have met up!! We came home early when the power went and our hosts moved to a hotel.
Dare Me comes out 7/31.

Jack Bates said...

That's the second time that's happened. The BN staff filled me in. They were staying open later so people could cool down and plug in. It was like a refugee camp- and I guess in many ways it was.

Katherine Tomlinson said...

I think ebooks have saved reading. I was a die-hard, you'll pry my books from my cold, dead hand girl and then my best friend gave me a Kindle. I think there was a whole generation of non-readers until the rise of ebooks, especially with young authors like Amanda Hocking. <u friends' children read books online and on their devices. My grandfather-in-law read on a kindle. I can slip my kindle in my purse for reading on the plane. And since I read fast, I have another book when I'm done. I think we'll see more readers than ever.

Erik Donald France said...

I've seen many people reading *something* on wireless devices. We're experimenting at the library with ejournals, etc.

The imaginary Minister of Culture gives discounts and prizes for seeing plays, art movies, and art; for readers and writers' retreats and gatherings. Discounted food and fun. A million in prizes for writing/reading books and discussing them. Travel passes to distant places. A world I could rally for ;->

Rob Kitchin said...

They'll always be a need for writers - journalism, magazines, TV, film, game narratives, books, etc. Nearly everything on a mobile device has a writer/storyteller somewhere involved. And social media make millions writers of sorts. They'll be people who make money from it, and those that will do it for the love of it.