After a very long weekend of too much food, too many relatives and too little sleep, I woke up yesterday, poured a cup of coffee and started reading the New York Times. The first article to catch my attention was How to Publish Without Perishing.
I think, on the contrary, we’ve reached a shining moment for this ancient technology. Publishers may or may not figure out how to make money again (it was never a good way to get rich), but their product has a chance for new life: as a physical object, and as an idea, and as a set of literary forms. . . .
Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.
While I find this an interesting view, I wonder if Mr. Gleick has been out and about in the real world lately. Has he been to his local bookstore? Does he have any contact at all with "the younger generation"?
Later in the day I found myself inside the local Barnes and Noble. In our town, they have the best selection of CDs and it is Christmas time.
The store was moderately busy. A few people in the coffee shop, a few people sitting in the oversize chairs (mostly they looked like they were waiting for someone), a bustling staff and a handful of customers.
I found the demographics very telling. I saw children (approximately 5-13) accompanied by parents; I saw middle aged women, and I saw old men and women. Aside from the staff, I did not see one person between the age of about 13 and 30. None!
I was willing to chalk it up to a very unscientific survey and leave it at that. I decided I better quite procrastinating. So I started gathering my stuff and getting ready to go clean up my house. And then I saw her. A real life teenage girl. She just appeared before my eyes. I was so intrigued by the sight I just stared.
She looked around for a moment, and then she threw herself into a chair with a big sigh. She routed around in her jean's pocket and pulled out a cell phone. Within seconds she was texting away. Totally ignoring all the beautifully bound books along with everyone in the store.
I for one, am unwilling to bet that she will someday wake up and find a book a thing of beauty; something to cherish. I doubt that she will see a book as an idea or a set of literary forms.
She may see it as furniture (a great way to warm up a room and give it a little class). Kind of like the antique rolltop desk I inherited from my grandmother. Beautiful but with very limited usability.