WARNING: This is a no-edit zone…
This morning, I awakened to discover the following:
“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.”
Steve Jobs–Amazon <Kindle Reader>
Troubling insight from a human being’s point of view and from a writer’s.
Any writer who has been publishing books for a length of time can tell you that the industry has changed mightily in the last decade. Any reader can tell you that, too. But their perspectives on those changes are significantly different.
Writers note more writers and fewer publishing slots. They note smaller print runs. They note the logical decrease in earnings. Writers also note fewer books available in fewer places in the market.
At one time, you could walk into stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart and you’d find book departments. Over time, those departments have winnowed down to where some have a single aisle of shelving. Others still have more space, but nowhere near the square footage in the store that they once did.
Several factors, in my humble opinion, attribute to this. Stores are interested in their bottom line. They, too, want to stay fiscally healthy. So every square inch of store floor space is important to them. If the profit margin is greater on other products, then other products get more space. Can’t blame them for that. They’re in business to make money and managers are accountable not only to higher ups, but to other employees counting on them.
Used book sales have an enormous impact on new sales. That impact wasn’t as significant before the Internet. Now, anyone who owns books has a viable venue for selling them and is doing so. If you look at the income generated in used book sales over the past few years, you’ll see explosive growth.
This is a mixed bag of good and bad news. The publisher and the writer earn nothing on used books. But many readers are willing to try new authors in used books who wouldn’t in new ones because of the costs. Some books are being sold three and four times, and that’s exposure to three or four (or more) readers.
For writers, one sad truth is that many of them are being forced out of writing. They simply can’t afford to support their families anymore. I heard from an author yesterday who publishes multiple books a year for two separate and very credible publishers. Her sales are considered “good” by standards, and yet she’s earning half or less than in years past. Will she keep writing? I don’t know. I hope so; we’ll lose a beautiful, insightful voice if she doesn’t, but she and her family like to eat every day, so necessity might well force her into a different career field.
All of this has me thinking in a broader picture spectrum and I wonder how much new technologies and such have had on books. For example, now that movies are so readily available through dvd rentals and purchases, how many who once read now watch, opt for video instead?
I wonder at the impact of gaming and blogging. Many who were once readers now spend their discretionary time writing their own blog or reading the blogs others write. There’s no expense involved, and it’s entertaining slices of life on whatever topic might interest someone. I wonder at the impact of online reading, actually.
Many spend their workdays at a computer, reading, and I wonder if the divide between reading stories and reading for work has narrowed to where some hunger for a different experience to differentiate. Something totally different.
I look around. We’re collectively heavier, Type 2 Diabetes is up, so we’re not opting for physical activity on a grand scale. Fewer kids are routinely outside playing. They’re inside engaged in computer games instead, or doing homework (it seems more is required these days than in the past), or involved in other indoor pursuits.
Compounding the challenge are economic times. Most are two-income households and discretionary money is a challenge. But so is discretionary time. Our days are so full with commitments and “must dos” that we have scant hours for pleasure activities. This too has to be a key factor. It’s a “we can do more so we are” type atmosphere. It’s almost expected that we do the jobs three used to do. We’re harried and hustled all the time. That makes it easier to understand why so many are feeling less fulfilled, satisfied, and content (no matter how much you do, it’s never enough) and why so many are feeling stressed to the max (pressure to perform can definitely do that–and cause all kinds of ailments). We really do need to ask ourselves how much is enough? And we need to smell the roses and their stems and leaves.
A few decades ago, there were fewer activities clamoring for our time and attention. There wasn’t 24-hour TV, DVDs, movies on demand, or many other things that are part of today’s life’s fabric. Most didn’t have computers, and if they did, they were work related and graphics free. There weren’t online social networks or research capabilities or opinion blogs. Even the news was “just the facts” and pundits were limited to the written word.
We’re in a different world now. We’ve chosen it. And I have to say that this sobering assertion about reading creates worry in me for writers but also for readers. Reading keeps the mind active. Stories probe the meat of life. Books educate and entertain, and offer us windows into other worlds with a depth and richness that don’t exist in other forums. They fire our imaginations, our desires, our tempers and touch our hearts. Help us develop our sense of self by the attributes we experience exhibited and elect to adopt. Things like personal respect and honor and courage and compassion. They explore the human condition and give us understanding and a sense of oneness with our kind. Books motivate us to act, to think, to dream.
And I worry for the forty percent at all they’re losing or willingly sacrificing by not reading.
I worry most that they don’t realize the depth and breadth of their sacrifice. The impact that this will have on them, their children, on their children’s children. What will help them develop admirable attributes, allow them to plumb humanity? What will motivate them to act and think and dream?
If nothing does, will they notice? Or will what is normal for them hide all that they’re missing?
This is what is on my mind this morning… this, and how to encourage more to read…
©2008, Vicki Hinze