31 Dec 2012
- Gordon Moyes
Many people contact me about what books I would recommend as suitable gifts. I love books and read daily and always have. I have always tried to own the books I read.
Consequently several years ago I had to down size my library and I gave 25,000 books to the Wesley Institute Library, the Dunbar Library and the Christian Leadership College in Papua New Guinea. I still have about 5000 in my study, in our reading room, sitting room and in our craft room.
I love books. I love the feel of them, the smell of them and the content of them. No Kindles for me. I can down load e-books on my iPad, but I leave that for reading emails, magazines and newspapers each day especially if I am on the train.
The future of books troubles me. Borders closed hundreds of book stores because people are buying over the internet from Amazon and other retailers and downloading eBooks. Independent and Christian book shops (such as the CLC ones in so many country towns) are almost always in deep trouble. The book industry is struggling with the digital revolution. Dozens of Australian publishers have gone out of business, including almost all of the biggest and best Christian publishers (Anzea, Albatros, etc). Some Christian bookshops (Koorong, Word) import container loads of USA books, most at prices equivalent to the American publishers dumping them here.
This is bad for Christians here because the books are mainly the worst of American religious publications, and it is bad for Australian book publishers because Christians will not buy the more expensive Australian ones. Here, printed book sales grew just 1.6 per cent between 2002 and 2008. The digital world is transforming the industry. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report to the Australian government showed that e-book sales in Australia were worth $35 million in 2010 and would reach between $150 million and $700 million by 2014. These, of course, are purchased on line and do nothing for the Australian book retailer.
Internet usage has grown very dramatically. The only way to obtain digital books is through Internet usage.
E-book readers (Kindle etc) will grow strongly in the next one to two years especially in school usage. The advantages of digital publishing in education are numerous: textbooks can be quickly revised; supplementary materials can be made online; students can "interface" with online courses; and students do not have to lug around books to class. Since the Government has been giving free lap tops to school children, they now also have the means to read on-screen.
Author Russell Smith says we can say goodbye to the bookshelf. It will become a relic, like the buggy whip. But what about libraries? Does reading books feel the same when you do it on an e-reader? Do books, libraries and reading have a future in the digital age?
Books are not about to disappear. More than three billion books are sold annually in America alone. I have had over 60 books published with combined world sales in excess of 1,500,000. In comparison, the sales numbers of e-readers and tablet computers are puny. Amazon, the world's biggest online retailer, will only sell an estimated three million of its Kindle this year. The iPad, Apple's touch-screen tablet, which doubles as an e-reader will do better. But the device's sales will still be dwarfed by those of global bestsellers, such as the Harry Potter tales, of which more than 400m copies have been bought globally.
But how long will that last? Google boss Eric Schmidt warns that kids might lose the skill of reading for comprehension and deep understanding as they increasingly use devices rather than actual books. American writer Nicholas Carr argues that we might be reading more now but it's a different kind of reading. With the Internet, he says, we are now reading in a more disjointed state and that might make us intellectually lazy.
But does that mean the book is dead? Not necessarily. Digital media will change reading. It will be a case of taking in screens embedded with moving images and contemporary music, so you're watching, listening and reading at the same time much like watching TV with subtitles.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that with the release of Apple's iPad, publishers are scrambling to get a foothold in the burgeoning market, including the development of apps for their books. Libraries, I have noticed, are becoming digital learning centres and gaming areas. Some libraries, like book shops, are opening coffee shops where you can borrow books and magazines while you sip. Reference works in libraries and on your book shelf are being replaced with Google and Wikipedia.
So what does the future hold for books, reading and libraries? Are they headed for extinction, or do you think they will change? Has the Internet changed your reading habits? Are you planning to get something like the iPad or do you have a Kindle already? Has it changed anything for you? Do you read more or less?
Just because you can carry in your pocket several hundred books on your Kindle, does that mean you are reading more but learning less? One of my family tells me he could down load 22,000 books, but he cannot find one he wants to read.
I am spending more money on good books than ever in my life. But I want good content to be matched by good bindings. That book becomes a friend for years, long after my electronic reader has a flat battery.