May 24, 2006


Read All About It

...The writing might be on the wall, but unfortunately it might be less likely to be on the pages of a book.
...Even though net revenue for book sales increased by 5.9 percent to just below $34.6 billion last year, the Institute for Publishing Research is predicting sluggish demand for books over the next four years because statistics show that younger generations have little, if any, interest in reading books. The group suggests that older demographics are heavy readers, but a decline in overall sales will be evident as younger people are spending more time and money on things like iPods, digital cameras, and cell phones that have more bells and whistles than a top-of-the-line Jaguar.
...This potential problem for publishers was a hot topic at the recent BookExpo America, but reports said that attendees could basically be lumped into three categories: those who desire change, those who simply accept the change, and those who don’t want the change whatsoever.
...Even though it’s good to have hard numbers and statistics, we probably can simply look around us and realize that reading books is a foreign hobby for many people 40 years-of-age and younger. Peruse MySpace profiles (only if you have to and if you don’t mind having your I.Q. drop by a few points due to exposure), and you’ll notice how many of them have comments in the “BOOKS” category such as “Books suck!” and “Who reads?” Not surprisingly the words are usually misspelled and incorrect punctuation is used (I wish that I had a nickel for every question that was concluded with an exclamation mark). Could this be because they don’t read?
...Getting back to the topic at hand, a situation like this is reminiscent of a scene in the original version of the movie The Time Machine. Rod Taylor’s character travels to the distant future and discovers that books have absolutely no value to civilization. There was no reason to read because they could sooner swim and eat fruit; there was no reason to learn because they could sooner relax and sunbathe. The books that the civilization did have were hundreds of years old and disintegrated at the slightest touch. It was accepted, though, because the civilization was more interested in relaxing on a daily basis. Carpe diem, indeed.
...Obviously it was just a movie, but we’re nonetheless experiencing a massive change in terms of communication, learning, and intellectual growth. Consider how long writing and reading have been a part of civilizations; consider how important reading and writing have been in the growth of these civilizations. Now, when it comes to younger generations, opening a book is nothing more than a task that has to be carried out in a classroom—that is, if it’s carried out.
...Obviously this developing scenario is nightmarish for book publishers because they’ve based their livelihoods on the sales of the written word. This change in the market isn’t only a philosophical problem for them, but a financial one. Since a few of the BookExpo attendees have willingly accepted the fact that change is occurring with respect to book demand, let’s take a look at the two possibilities which exist in relation to the actual concepts of reading, writing, and learning.
...On one hand it can be argued that this lack of book buying isn’t necessarily a direct sign that society is going to hell. Reading might have simply shifted from paper to computer screens, creating a market for information that was traditionally offered in books, only to now be found in the form of pixels. Instead of hardcover and paperbacks, we’ll have e-books. Instead of encyclopedias and dictionaries, we’ll simply have Websites that offer the same services. The databases are just online as opposed to on a bookshelf.
...If we consider how much the Internet has provided us with reading material—some good and some bad, similar to what books have offered us—we can see that the act of reading and the desire for information dissemination hasn’t really changed—only the mediums have.
...The biggest change becomes the decline of paper-based writing; the biggest challenge ends up being selling your goods in a market that isn’t too interested in what you have to offer. This brings about forced change, but that isn’t anything new. Humans moved from stone tablets to papyrus, papyrus to parchment, parchment to paper. The Internet revolution might be the next step in this process, allowing us to say “paper to computer screen.”
...This new medium has opened the door for more authors—from information to entertainment to opinion—and more information. It can also be said that more writers—again, some good and some bad—will emerge because the paperless world allows for less red tape in the publishing process. Consider blogs, for instance: We can opine without being accepted by a publisher; more over, we have little to no expense to open our big mouths.
...On the other hand, it can indeed be said that the decline in book sales is simply due to what many have already said: Younger people don’t want to read anything anymore. They want immediate gratification and as much entertainment as possible—books don’t offer that for them. Thus, the iPod and cell phone take the place of the novel; reading to learn something is now relegated to homework for school.
...This argument is quite possible considering how many people have short attention spans, and the fact that books don’t lend themselves to people who need new stimuli every three or four minutes—technological toys, however, are perfect for it.
...Last year Norman Mailer opined on the matter and suggested that people with short attention spans have actually been conditioned by television and namely commercial breaks. People 40 and under have grown up with the ubiquitous television set and have come to recognize a change of stimulus every few minutes as being “normal,” since television programs of all sorts rely upon the standard format of off-and-on segments of program and commercial. Books don’t rely upon such a format; they force the user to start, stay interested, and end at the conclusion.
...Are the concepts of reading and learning becoming a thing of the past? My pessimistic nature wants to say yes. Looking around at many of my peers supports such a notion. Looking at the twenty-something populace as a whole when they put themselves on display on sites such as MySpace adds a bit of data to what might be otherwise nothing more than an assumption. To summarize it, yes, it appears that not only book buying but reading in general is losing ground with my generation.
...Is this going to change? I’d argue that it will if people have a desire to feed their minds. If that doesn’t happen, our intellect as a society will go the way of the decomposing books in The Time Machine.


Blogger amy said...

This is a great post, and you make some great points. As an academic librarian who handles collection development for 6 academic departments and nearly 10 disciplines, I find it increasingly hard to buy books to put on the shelves knowing full-well that our students won't come in, search them out and pick them up. It's hard to realize that this generation of readers are more prone to viewing articles online than picking up a book that might actually help them moreso than the online resources (but hey, if they use our databases instead of Google, that's a step in the right direction).

It is hard to get them to read - be it academic or popular fiction (and we don't carry popular fiction at our library). Sometimes though, you can pick out the right thing, and it gets put in the right place, and they pounce on it. This trend however, travels in waves, and oftentimes it's spurred on by parental or professorial influence.

Still though, as I buy books, I have to keep in mind that they might actually read it someday. The realist in me knows however, that I might just be on a fruitless journey.

May 25, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...


I was hoping that you’d offer something on this topic because I’ve been curious as to what librarians thought about it, and more importantly what they saw. I’m still working my way to the point of working in a library, albeit smaller than a university but important nonetheless.

One of my biggest concerns over the last few months of classes has been what to do when my target audience — my consumers, if you will — aren’t interested in what’s available to them. Like you had said, even when the kids do come in to use resources, they’re usually online as opposed to book form.

Yes, it opens doors and offers more information, but it also adds to the possibility of questionable resources and even worse, plagiarism and buying pre-made term papers.

Wow. That’s a blog post by itself.

May 25, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

May 25, 2006  
Blogger Ms. B said...

Kids complain about reading constantly. Even today, one of my students actually said, "Books are stupid. Why read when you can watch TV?" I couldn't believe it, but seconds later his classmates chimed in and started complaining about how the books they're assigned are too long or boring. To Kill A Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies...too long?! Boring?!?! I think not.

I think that my appreciation for books came from my parents. They're always reading...I can picture in my mind, sitting on the couch with my mom, learning to read. My mom took us to the library constantly. To this day, my dad still recommends books to me, and talks about the things he is reading. My love for books comes from them.

Maybe younger generations don't get that kind of exposure/influence at home anymore.

May 25, 2006  
Blogger amy said...

JP, yes, that IS a blog post in itself - the whole plagiarism thing is such a problem, especially in higher education (I have some scary anecdotes from some of my faculty). And Ms. B. is right about the length of books being assigned are being balked at by students ... even in college they're not any better. It's as if they don't even believe that answerse could be found in a book!!

I do think kids are less influenced by parents and being brought to libraries at an early age (in general), but during my first gig as a Children's Librarian, I saw some glimmers of hope. The kids I saw week in and week out were not only regulars, but they were enthusiastic readers and had parents of the same ilk. Granted, going to libraries and borrowing books doesn't necessarily help the publishing industry, but that's beside the point. These kids would put a ton of books on hold even though they knew they'd have to wait weeks for it to arrive. Some would go nuts over Garfield comic books. They were so genuine and excited about reading that I still hope those kids are reading and that more parents are passing along those hearty reading values.

May 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow...this was very enlightening! I enjoyed reading this and you made excellent sense!

May 26, 2006  
Blogger J.P. said...

I’m only speaking from personal experience, but some of my earliest exposure to books came from my mom, who made sure that both my brother and I had a more than adequate number of books at our disposal. In addition she made sure that we were read to as much as possible.

Somewhere along the way, however, I stuck with reading and my brother tossed it aside (sadly his only reading material nowadays is his subscription to Maxim). Now when the two of us converse, I’m able to tell him all about things ranging from politics to baseball to Victorian London and he’s able to tell me all about things ranging from identifying undercover police cruisers to the perfect one-night stand to making a professional-looking homemade porno.

We’ve come a long way from Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham.

May 26, 2006  
Blogger Kelly said...

I have done something with my younger kids....wishing I had done this with the older kids...I have been reading to them at night. It started out as a way of just self preservation in getting all the kids to calm down at night. (A couple years ago we got 4 extra kids and became their guardians.

We have now read entire series of books. I have read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Harry Potter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Junie B. Jones, several Box Car children books, and on and on...

The younger ones now like to read on their own. The 6 year old in my home will walk around the house with her nose in a book. My 9 year old boy has had complaints from his teacher at school that he spends way too much time reading when he should be doing other assignments.

There is hope, Amy.

May 28, 2006  

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