A fairly interesting, if somewhat confused in places, piece in The Guardian a few days ago from the author Philip Hensher.
He starts by pointing out the rather glorious way that slightly niche publishing projects can get off the ground thanks to crowd funding websites such as Kickstarter, and also the way in which it’s now possible to buy and download electronic versions of a writer’s entire output for a couple of quid thanks to the ebook stores.
So far so sensible, but Hensher then goes on:
Ruth Rendell was commenting on one of the beneficiaries of the “long tail”, a once forgotten novel by John Williams, Stoner. Rendell suggested that it has become a huge success in 2013, compared with its small impact on publication in 1965, precisely because it celebrates the power of reading and the value of literature. In 1965 that was taken for granted. Now, Rendell suggested, reading has become a specialist activity, and Stoner is more “needful”.
He goes on to suggest a literary equivalent of the doctor’s recommendation of five-a-day, replacing fruit and veg with books – and hopefully a slightly longer timeframe.
I personally find that there are some works that I am perfectly happy to read on an electronic device, whether a Kindle e-reader or the app on my iPad (mini – the regular sized iPads are far to cumbersome to work well as a reading device).
There are other books, however, which I need to be on paper in front of me. I’ve recently been reading the letters of DH Lawrence – which I heartily recommend – and it would be a far poorer experience were I to be reading them on a screen rather than being able to thumb through the pages.
The sheer accessibility of literature now, thanks to the internet and resources such as Project Gutenberg, make it a fantastic time to be a reader. I suspect it is also a great time to be a writer, as the ebook market allows those authors who might never have got a book deal to find readers and perhaps make a living from their words.
As to whether the distractions of the internet are stopping people from reading… well, I dunno. I have a sneaking suspicion that those who do not want to read have always found something else that they would rather do; and those who love books will always find the time for them, no matter what is happening elsewhere, virtually or otherwise.