Sunday, 11 December 2011

the end of books

Yesterday I met someone at a party that worked in the same bookshop in Holborn that I worked in 14 years ago - was a Books Etc, now a Waterstones. Apparently one of the guys I worked with is still there. It's quite amazing to think of it. I left for a job in the head office, trained as a TEFL teacher, moved to Spain, came back, did a PGCE, bought a flat, rented it out, left teaching...

... all the while for 14 years he's been commuting to the same place every day, cashing up, serving customers, seeing reps, reporting shop-lifters, directing tourists to the British Museum...For 14 years. The same place.

Maybe I should have stayed there too, I don't know why I thought I should always be somewhere else. I thought maybe I should be earning more money or being more ambitious after the amount of years I'd spent in education and getting qualifications. Though maybe there's nothing better really than working in a bookshop.

Only maybe the bookshops won't always be there. At the party I was talking to someone about my plan to get into library work, and he was asking if I thought physical libraries would exist anymore. Everything is being digitally archived. Eventually there'll be no need for a physical space to go to - they'll go the same way as Our Price and other record shops when CDs then mp3s replaced the need for vinyl. You won't go and browse bookshops for something to read because you'll just download texts onto your Kindle, and if you need something to read for fun or research you can go onto the library's website and it will be online.

It makes me feel desperately sad to see books becoming obsolete. I've no desire to read books on a little electronic device, I like holding them in my hands and turning the pages, flipping ahead to the end of a chapter to see how many pages to go, I like the art work on the covers and the way they look lined up on my shelves. I like reading them in the bath and in bed (usually I find the book on the floor in the morning, a kindle would not withstand this kind of treatment.)

And the thought of all that industry being lost, printers and bookshops and cover designers being gone, would be a tragedy of epic proportions.


  1. I'm clinging to the hope that there are enough people out there who like the papery versions to sustain the industry, but I have to admit that the evidence is not promising. Most people under 30 barely seem to read at all - the most they can manage is 140 characters.

  2. I like reading picture books at work, and so do the children, but I wonder if this will last for much longer, TB. Those kids have absolutely no idea of a what a vinyl LP looks like or what it is for. I'm pretty sure in the next 10-15 years, books are going to go the same way. *sniff*

  3. I think the current view is that there will be a resurgence in expensive, beautifully crafted hardbacks but paperbacks will wither and die.

  4. Type, quality of paper, binding material, illustration, history of ownership - I think taste is the only sense I don't use when I interact with a book. Feel physically repulsed, not excited, by kindle devices.
    Independent bookselling in cities will survive in America for a while yet, but it seems to have died in the UK.

  5. David Hepworth made the very valid point recently that web stores like iTunes and Amazon don't and can't replicate the serendipity of browsing, which is quite true. They offer 12 million tracks and 40 million books but you really don't know where to start.

    Perhaps it's called "Kindle" because it's akin to book burning?

  6. Haha, why don't all you grannies go and live in a cave with your gramaphone records and betamax tapes, so you can spend all day sitting around together moaning about how much better it was in the old days when books were made of twigs and mud and people didn't leave disrespectful blog comments all over the place?

  7. GSE, it's like books will be contraband, like in 1984 or Fahrenheit 451...

    Arabella, agreed. It was the death of the Net Book Agreement what done it.

    Rog, true. Maybe they’ll invent virtual shopping malls. Bah...

    LC, you, sir, are a philistine. And a poltroon.

    Just this morning they were moaning on the news about the Death of the High Street. That's all because of TECHNOLOGY. (And Corporatism.)

  8. Luddite & proud:

  9. tbh, I like paper bukes too, and spend many a happy hour trawling through the numerous charity shops on my high street looking for second hand bargains, which I won't be able to do when print dies.

    On the other hand, mass production of hard copies of any media is incredibly wasteful, I think, when they could just as easily be distributed in digital form without losing any of the content.

    Also, e-publishing means that a much broader range of writers can find an audience - not just those lucky enough to land a publishing deal. And there are thousands of completely free books available for download too - why should you pay some EVIL CORPORATE publisher for a novel that's been in the public domain for the best part of a century?

    Basically, the same thing will happen with books as with music. Digitising the media creates interesting new opportunities for the people who actually create the content, whilst taking money away from the greedy middle men, but hard copies will start to enjoy a kind of retro-cool cult status (a'la vinyl records) which will then be seized upon by corporate interests until it ceases to be cool and the only people buying it are godawful try-hard hipster-kiddies who are only affecting a preference for printed books as an image statement.


  10. Hmm. What you save in paper you make up for in electricity, que no? And not convinced that epublishing will guarantee that authors will get paid for their books, if it's anything like the music industry & their struggle with file sharing. I would also like to play devil's advocate for the publishing industry too, seeing as there are too many books published anyway and they act as a filtering system. If something has fought its way through the system to be read, edited and marketed and designed and printed, it might have earned its place?

    I dunno, it seems very wrong that books should become some niche collectors item. Anyway I see Baron Boring Alan of Yentob is currently addressing this very topic in the telly, which definitely means I'm a dullard and should shut up now.

  11. Books have aesthetic value in and of themselves. The actual moment of turning a page, the feeling of the paper and the readjustment of your eye-line - those are all important to ones experience of reading.

    I think books will become a niche market but literature won't, the way vinyl became for collectors, but music was democratised when we went digital. There are benefits, but a little bit of what makes life worth living will be lost.

  12. Miscommunicant, YES. This is one of my favourite Flickr groups. There is nothing so good as a Penguin paperback, especially the 1960s designs.

  13. Have you seen these? Probably the thing in 2011 that made me happiest:

    It's all over, though:

    I love that flickr group.

  14. That is beautiful. I'm glad that they stayed anonymous, too.