More people than ever are writing and publishing books. Meanwhile, podcasts, YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms for audio and video media burgeon. Is it a competition?
Last year while doing some research for a client, I met with a couple of young businesspeople to take their pulses on reading preferences. One did not read books. The other, a successful marketing entrepreneur weighed in on the topic of books as a whole. Her words? “I think books are going away.”
That hit my heart. Books are near-sacred to me. I’ve been reading books since I was four years old, my parents read to me before that, and my grandma’s business was selling old and hard-to-find books. Her house was our family’s private library and the site of some of my most cherished memories. It was a wonderland of magical doors through which you could travel to places across the universe, to fairylands, to previous time periods. There was so much to see, to learn, to experience!
Now someone was telling me that these magical doors are going away?
I don’t believe her. Maybe that’s denial. In emotional terms, maybe “I’m too close to the situation” to have perspective. Yet there are signs that I have objective grounds for hope.
Even Young People Go Old-School
A client of mine has two secretaries in their twenties. Several months ago, as a courtesy, I offered them a social media planner I use for clients and for myself. It’s a spreadsheet to help plan out social media posts for months at a time.
A couple of weeks ago, I checked in with one of them to see how it was going and if they had any questions. She made a sheepish admission: they weren’t using it. Instead, they’d bought an old-school desk calendar and were using sticky notes on it. “We’re more hands-on,” she explained. “This is easier for us to plan out than working on a computer.”
Here were young people preferring physical hands-on materials to electronic versions for some things. That must surely apply to books!
Don’t get me wrong, e-books are great for travel. Printed, bound books, however, have a tangible presence, a weight, a smell. They have a physicality. Eyes must move across a page, hands must hold and turn separate pages. There is a permanence to the words that electronic content cannot replicate.
Some people will always find that attractive.
That brings me to my next point.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Let’s switch to music for a second.
I learned to love classical music early on. My dad loved it and had taught himself to play classical guitar. I grew up listening to Brahms, Bach, Tchaikovsky, and more. As soon as I was old enough, I began taking violin lessons.
At some point in my adolescence or teen years, I noticed that many of my peers had little interest in and less knowledge of classical music. They listened to pop, rap, and country. I started to worry: did that mean that someday my favorite radio stations would disappear for lack of support?
As I got older, though, the worry dissipated. I realized that there were people of all ages who learned to love and enjoy classical music. Just because there were other genres didn’t mean everyone would stop loving the classics.
I believe it will be the same with books as a medium of spreading information and stories. As different methods of expression and consumption of content become more accessible to the public, people will have their preferences. The written word, and by extension, books, will become one of multiple preferences.
That ties to my final reason for believing books will never disappear: the recent accelerated growth in the book publishing industry may well be temporary.
Let’s look at why.
Book Writing and Reading Will Return to What They “Should” Be
Yes, the book industry has burgeoned, but has it done so for the “right” reasons?
This hurts my heart to say it. Anymore, the book industry is rife with businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and influencers who see books as a dual badge of honor and marketing tool. Love of books and writing has taken a back seat, it seems.
Step back with me, though.
Writing is one of the oldest ways of conveying messages not only across space but across time. In earlier times, only the elite—the rich and/or educated—had the ability to read and write or even had access to reading materials. The printing press began to change the latter; the basic education most countries in the world require of their citizens has changed the former. Now many an average Joe can and does read and write.
The ability to send an audio message across time and space came later. Think radio and the telephone. Video—like moving pictures and television followed.
Personal communications followed that pattern—letters, then phone calls, now video conferences. Recording information has followed suit—letters, telegrams, and books; records, audio cassette tapes, and so forth; and finally home video cameras. Now a simple hand-held device handles all three modes of communication.
Social media and digital platforms followed a similar pattern.
Early social media’s quickest, easiest way to convey a message, even to accompany a picture, was via writing. Everyone became a writer. To get hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people to consume your message, you just need a blog. You don’t have to chase publishing deals.
Now podcasting and vlogging are cheap and easy to produce.
I believe the book industry, eventually, will decline, but only to a size commensurate with the people who truly enjoy writing and reading them. People who read and produced written materials because other options were less accessible may well turn to other forms of mass communication to express their ideas or intake others’.
And that is fine with me.
This is an opinion piece. No one can tell the future.
Yet I see good signs. Early in 2022, I read an article that Barnes & Noble had seen quite an uptick in in-store clientele. One of the reasons they gave? Nostalgia.
Books simultaneously give you comfort and freedom. In a pandemic-weary world, those are two things we long for. But they are two things, I think, that people will always want. Reading a book means you can sit in your room and travel the world. You may have to stay in your reality, but you can immerse yourself in a different reality with books in a way that audio or video bites or even movies can’t deliver.
That thought encourages this book lover.
Plus, when I think about the young marketing professional who said that “books are going away” and the young businessman who said that he doesn’t read books, I also remember what he added: “some of my friends do, though.”