The Death Of Books Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
What does all this data add up to? Hardly an industry in its death throes, so one must ask why there are so many long faces about the place. Let's not be naive. These are times of massive change, and change is never, ever comfortable. The retail sector worries publishers and authors alike; in the past year, publishers have lost Woolworth, Borders and British Bookshops as sales channels and, as Kate Pool from the Society of Authors says: "The increasing dominance of Amazon (as retailer, increasingly as publisher, as owner of the Kindle, etc) is potentially very worrying."
This, combined with the emergence of digital technology, creates enormous uncertainty. It's a fact that the transition to digital devices will mean greater efficiencies and more focus on cost and, overall, a rather less generous publishing industry than before; a rather colder-hearted, fiercer one. The old world is fading, the new world isn't yet in focus. When newspapers and music faced this moment, there was a significant tendency to become hugely angry that the old world in which we were all so comfortable was being "swept away". It's almost impossible for someone who has spent decades working in a calm, creative environment not to be enraged by the sight of American technology companies tipping everything on its head.
But let's not overdo things. Let's not lose sight of the data we have, and let's not invent data when we only have anecdotes. And finally, let's not forget the wonders this new world opens up. Being able to download a book to read instantaneously wherever you are is a thing of wonder, after all (and there is some anecdotal suggestion that people are coming back to books via new digital platforms).
For authors, the chance to reach out to readers, instantly and effectively, is changing the way titles are marketed and delivers a glorious independence that comes with having your own digital presence to curate and to shape. There are new creative opportunities offered by interactive technologies. There is the chance to play in a world where books and stories can be either the private, cherished experience of old or a public, shared conversation with other readers from across the world.
So yes, the party's still on. It's not quite the same party, the drink's a good deal cheaper and we've got crisps, not caviar. But there are more people invited, and some of them look pretty groovy. I'll not get my coat just yet.