It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.
That’s what Apple CEO Steve Jobs had to say about Amazon’s Kindle book reader in an interview with New York Times journalists John Markoff and David Pogue.
I agree that the Kindle is a dud. Among my many gadget fanatic friends, none of them forked out the $400 (same price as an iPhone) for the wireless book reader. (Preetam went for the sold-out Cybook instead.)
But I optimistically disagree with Jobs’ (and others‘) obituary of that package of thinly sliced wood pulp known as the book. I think that the problem is that books need to reinvent themselves and discover a new distribution process.
Ironically, the only reason I haven’t updated to the incredibly nifty 1.1.3 firmware for the iPhone is because it would mean I’d have to give up my favorite iPhone app, Books, a mobile eBook reader.
Because (at least in the US) my iPhone is always connected to the internet, I can read just about whatever I want whenever I want. For most iPhone users, this probably means constantly scrolling up and down the sexy Digg interface for the iPhone. Or, worse, Facebook.
But just like it’s nice checking in on Facebook and getting immediate updates from my friends around the world, it’s also nice checking into Books and reading the latest from another new friend of mine, Benjamin Franklin. (BTW, happy belated bday Ben!) I started reading Benajamin Franklin’s Autobiography because, at the time, it was one of only four books available on the iPhone. But Franklin’s autobiography has turned out to be a complete delight to read. For a book published in the 18th century, it has none of the stuffy, flowery prose that is typical of the period. Franklin was a simple and straightforward writer. And, I can guarantee you that, were he born twenty years ago, he’d have one of the web’s hottest blogs today. The autobiography was originally written as a letter for his son, William, and so it has the same intimate tone that we find on many personal blogs.
There is one more parallel between Franklin’s life in the 1700’s and today’s Web 2.0 world which has stood out for me, and that is the concept of apprenticeship. Franklin more than paid his dues as a youngster working at his older brother’s print house in Boston. He slaved away, working 12-hour days, with hardly any pay, and very little recognition for all his hard work. But in the process he gained the skills – and eventually the notoriety – to later become published of The Pennsylvania Gazette and the infamous Poor Richard’s Almanacs.
Today’s globally connected Web 2.0 also has a sort of apprenticeship system. It is especially clear at Global Voices, where we all started working our asses off for nothing more than our ideals. We were apprentices. We were learning new skills, making mistakes, and becoming better writers and media producers along the way. Now we’ve got a paid staff of more than 20. It seems like every month we’re able to hire someone else who was formerly a volunteer.
A lot of people tell me how lucky I am to have the job that I do. I agree. I love my job, and luck certainly did play a part. But I don’t think they realize just how hard I worked to get to where I am. The same is true of all Global Voices’ paid staff. And the same could be true for you if it’s what you want and you’re willing to work hard enough. Start reading more. Start writing more. Start translating more. The opportunities are out there and they tend to go to those who are willing to work the hardest.
Well said, el Oso. I’ve always said that those who read with facility are essentially self-educating.
That’s right – if I’m not self-medicating, then I’m self-educating. Or, like now with this coffee in my hand, I’m doing both.
NO tengo mucho que decir, sólo que leer es un placer.
Sipi, educandose… leyendo… Unos sobreviven con agua ardiente, mota potente o esporte extremo… yo siempre me refugio en un libro, o dos, o tres o cuatro. Desde pequenita el package of thinly sliced wood pulp known as the book ha sido mi mejor amigo, el lugar donde me podia escapar en tiempos de tormentas y el encuentro fiel y placentero donde desarollar caminos que en las calles no alcanzaba recorrir.
Yo tambien creo firmamente en que the problem is that books need to reinvent themselves and discover a new distribution process De hecho, veo que el trafico generado por el portal nuestro (www.nochesdepoesia.com) queda una importante fuente de interes para los autores y les ayuda mucho qne difundir sus obras. La mayoria de los poetas que conozco logran vender algo de sus libros casi exclusivamente en persona, leyendo en series literarias, visitando escuelas, llegando a festivales locales, nacionales o internacionales.
Ahora, con el acesso internet un llega a conocer autores de todas partes… pero hacer que el libro papel llegue es recontra dificil a causa de leyes territoriales, logistica de envio e impuestos. Tal vez, encontraremos un libre comercio equilibrado que alcanzara sostener la creatividad, la difusion directa y la renta de los creadores.
Lo que si veo que funciona es…. unos pocos poetas ponen poemas en la red para que unos puedan bajarlos en la red, e igual que grupos musicos, la gente puede pagar algo voluntariamente, ayudando asi la difusion y el sostenimiento del autor.
Mucho que pensar y grandes revoluciones en el mundo editorial, tanto para los autores, los editores que los traductores…
traductora literaria en Canada
y aficionada de poesia http://www.nochesdepoesia.com
But Jobs is right. No one reads anymore is perhaps an overstatement, but it feels true. Long-form print just doesn’t reach a mass audience the way it used to, which sucks for those of us raised on books and on the romance of writing — fewer and fewer people can make a satisfying living writing, and even those who do seem sad and disaffected. I remember reading about how Amy Tan or someone was complaining that no one was buying novels anymore.
There was a time when people were saying the blog is the new book and all that, but honestly I just don’t see online print (or print delivered by iPhone or some new distribution process) going much beyond where it is now: contributing to an atmosphere ambient with information but where no one has the time or focus anymore to curl up with something long and structured. It’s all going to be snippets, and good luck if you think people have the patience for something serialized.
Why live vicariously through a book when you can already lead a virtual life online? Radio and print are dead, TV and movies are dying. One day more people will be playing World of Warcraft than reading books or watching movies.
We definitely have witnessed the atomization of all types of media. The album has become the track and the six pager New Yorker article has become a 140 character tweet.
Call me an optimist, but I think that there are still a good percentage of us who would much rather curl up with a book than zombify in front of World of Warcraft. Or maybe that’s just who I surround myself with. Maybe I am the one out of touch.
That “good percentage” exists but not in a quantitative sense, i.e. in the sense of a large number of people. It’s that relatively small percentage of the population who are the sensitive, the educated, the literary, the adventurous and so on that yes, people like yourself seek out and of which you count yourselves as members. But its always been a small clique.
The preference for zombification over stimulation is only going to intensify as the “real” world gets to be a harder and harder place in which to survive and succeed and one’s time and focus is scattered just trying to keep up.