Early morning and my mind is full of different thoughts. Excitement battles pensive moroseness as I consider my book. I’m ready to get started, to once again begin staying late at the office, to renew my friendship with the cleaning lady when she comes by to empty my trash at 7pm. To fuse and finish that which I’ve been working on for so long now. To finish my first novel, and begin my quest to get it published.
But then I consider all the warning signs that are coming down the pipe about the future of reading, of fiction, and grow somber. A recent NEA report discovered that an increasing number of children are not reading, are not interested in books. That reading is on the way out, becoming steadily more irrelevant to the new generation that’s being raised on YouTube and hand-held electronic toys of all guises. This isn’t the usual wailing over the lack of interest in literature, but a startling new and documented trend:
This report is a new and comprehensive analysis of reading patterns of children, teenagers, and adults in the United States. To Read or Not To Read assembled data on reading trends from more than 40 sources, including federal agencies, universities, foundations, and associations. The compendium expands the investigation of the NEA’s landmark 2004 report, Reading at Risk, and reveals recent declines in voluntary reading and test scores alike, exposing trends that have severe consequences for American society.
And then there’s the question of whether books will remain popular in their current form, whether people will want to buy words printed on paper and bound with glue, whether we’re not witnessing already the transition to ebooks, to electronic media, to the transition of a new phase. What will this mean for reading? Will graphics and hypertext become part of the parcel, and inflexible linear narratives become as staid and old school as medieval religious paintings became when compared to Rennaisance art? Am I working on a craft that is increasingly anachronistic? Via Print is Dead, I stumbled onto Nicholas Clee’s report in The Guardian relating that hardcovers are on the way out:
Until now, a small market has just about upheld the other arguments for literary fiction in hardback. But that market has almost reached vanishing point. The paucity of sales of novels even by acclaimed authors was an awkward book industry secret until this summer, when it was broadcast that eight of the novels on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize had sold fewer than 1,000 copies.
As I prepare to launch something new, I have to wonder if instead it is not something already old, antiquated, dated. Of course books are still being published, and will continue to do so for some time; but anybody entering the publishing world needs to take into account these new truths: that things are changing, that public is growing increasingly disinterested in novels, and that anybody who wants a future in this industry is going to have to make sure they don’t get left in the past.