Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ebooks to Eden

I do not believe reading books has ever been very popular. When you consider the number of people in the United States and the statistics that are issued on book reading, it's pretty pathetic. The statistics from different sources do not appear to be very consistent other than most sources seem to show that about 25% of the population does not read a single book a year. It looks to me like about half the population reads less than a book a month and the other folks read more than a book a month. I know when I talk to people about reading books many of them say they skimmed through this or quickly read through that. I think when you ask people how many books they have read, they are not going to be very honest about it.

I've written before that I thought ebooks were OK, but they are after all, well "electronic." And sooner or later, everything electronic gets more complicated and offers more features--they get suped-up. Once you start to promote suped-up books to the public, the ebook will morph into something completely different. Today's ebooks will look like pong games. Children's publishers are creating a much more interactive and exciting experience for kids with ebook-like products and it will only be a matter of time before such products reduce today's plain-Jane ebook market to mush. But the problem that occurs is that once the electronic viewing and information device (my name) and whatever it is that substitutes for books starts to drive the market further and further away from actual words on a page, the actual words become less important--not that words become trivial in all cases, just less important.

We already have works that have for the most part evolved from the book--they are called movies, plays and television. Although no one can argue, for example, that Shakespeare's words in his plays are not central to the experience, in most plays the language is at least in part lost in the movement, action, staging, and other visual elements. Great books often include narration that movie makers frequently cut and a few seconds of film often replaces a page of beautiful prose. I think it's fair to say that ebooks will morph into a kind of eye-candy-coated miniature movie--perhaps with lots of interactions and other things we haven't even imaged. However, the ebook will be so far removed from a book, marketers will stop calling them ebooks altogether. (Won't they soon be calling those little thin wafers so prevalent today something other than phones?)But for now, ebooks are riding the coattails of centuries of book-making and book-writing.

I am not suggesting that plays, TV and movies cannot be wonderful experiences in themselves, I am just saying that when we lose the written word found in books, it will be a great loss. On a positive note, when future polls set out to find out how many "books" Americans "read" in a year, if the experience becomes as passive and brainless as watching a bad TV show, that 25% of former non-readers may rack up as many "books" as everyone else.

Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press