Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Books: an endangered species?

As a writer, the idea that no one reads books any more is a sad one. Because if no one's reading books, no one's buying them. And if no one's buying them, no one's selling them. And if no one's selling them, that means no one's publishing them. Which means writers won't be able to make a living plying their trade. The only places publishing books will be vanity presses which means the only people writing books will be delusional with money to burn and a web site equipped with PayPal. Bookstores will become extinct. Even good bookstores, like Shaman Drum whose owner published an "Open Letter from a Distressed Bookseller" on the Drum's blog yesterday.

It's oversimplifying things to say that the Internet is ruining everything, but the Internet is ruining everything. People don't want to pay for information any more. Why buy a newspaper when you can to to the New York Times Web site? Why slip into an adult bookstore wearing dark sunglasses and a top hat (you're not fooling anyone) when you can just download free porn to your heart's content? Why pay for cable when you can watch The Daily Show With Jon Stewart online?

Why buy a book when you can, uh, scroll through pages of poorly rendered .pdf files while your MacBook battery burns a hole through the leg of your jeans? Or while you can buy an electronic book-reading device from Amazon for $359? Or when you can just engage in the cat-honored reading tradition of absorbing reading material through your undercarriage (witness my cat "reading" Preeta Samarasan's Evening Is the Whole Day, for example).

Or why read books at all when you can just read blogs? Like this one! Then again, what will blogs do once the news organizations they rely on for much of their content go extinct (like the reindeer uprising of 2012, it's coming)? For the few outlets that still do good investigative journalism, what will happen when they just can't afford to do it any more? Because people who sit in front of their computers all day just aren't going to cut it. The kind of journalism we need so badly in a democracy is just the kind of journalism that we're seeing less and less of as it stops turning a profit for shareholders.

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that I love books and I love bookstores and I fear for what a future without them would mean.

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