writing

A World Without (New) Books

Let’s be honest: everything’s a bit grim out there. And no, I’m not talking about the weather (although, sheesh! Depressing, or what?) I’m talking about the world of books. Libraries closing, bookshops closing…even publishers closing. Writers struggling to survive – well, that was always the case, because despite the high-profile JK Rowlings of this world, the vast majority of writers make very little money. But things are worse for us now, because publishers are nervous, due to aforementioned closures, the digital revolution, the threat of piracy…the humble BOOK is under threat.

I suppose we could manage without books.

We could read everything on screens.

We could listen to audiobooks. If we go camping, say, or are without an electrical supply for some other reason, we could hire professional storytellers to come along with us.

‘Oh, we’ve got enough books now,’ you could say. ‘We’ve got over five hundred years’ worth, we don’t need any more.’ Or you might say ‘there are too many books being printed! We don’t need so many!’ And an awful lot of books do get published. (A lot of awful books get published, too, ho ho!) The only country in the world that publishes more books per year than Britain is the United States – but not by as much as you’d think, given that they have five times the population. Here, we publish over 200,000 books a year. So hey! What if some writers have to jack it in and get a proper job? It’s natural selection, right? The good ones will survive.

Altogether now: AAAARGH!

The truth is, the best writers usually aren’t the ones who produce the headline-grabbing instant bestsellers.

Read the book, buy the T-shirt! http://www.zazzle.co.uk

Anything truly great and original takes time to write, and to make its mark. Years, often. Stop that process and you kill off culture itself. Limit it to bestsellers and you get an impoverished culture. And of course in any case, all stories  – including those consumed digitally –  still have to be written by somebody, and that somebody deserves to get paid. Websites like Wattpad are great for getting initial exposure, but everyone wants to earn money from their writing eventually.

My rather fuzzy picture of Dr Rochester’s Extraordinary Storyloom, which is on exhibit at the Story Museum, Oxford. Technology has come a long way since Dr Rochester’s day, yet even today, no one has successfully invented a way of dispensing with human writers.

OK, rant over – and you know all this, of course. You’re a book-lover! Why else would you be here? Well, the survival of good books is in your hands. Demand them, rave about them, share the love! Take a look at this film by my friend Candy Gourlay, full of youngsters talking about the books they love and why. Share your own thoughts here!

The future of books is in YOUR HANDS, girls. Make it happen!

27 thoughts on “A World Without (New) Books

  1. Hi there Fiona,

    I agree that the paper form of books is disapearing. It’s sad and upseting that almost half the kids today, would rather play outside, smashing stuff rather then stay inside and read a good book, so their world can expand.

    Must go and write x

    • Laura, I’m afraid I have to differ with you here! Playing outside? How fantastic! Would that it were the case (smashing things up not so good of course, but were there not always the ones who did that?) On the contrary, I think they don’t get out *enough*, and this is often down to fear – of muggings, etc. Which is sad. So, passionate though I am about books, I throw my hands up in horror at the idea that the nasty little beasts ought to behave themselves, sit quietly and read a book. I don’t even deplore the proportion of potential reading-time that’s taken up with computer games, for example – those can be good too. My point is simply, don’t let’s allow society to lose the good stuff. Let us not turn into a world where instant gratification is king, and lousy, unimaginative, unedited works nudge real talent out of the way. It took Philip Pullman seven years to write the His Dark Materials trilogy. His first book was published in 1972; he was only in a position to give up teaching in 1986, but his big breakthrough came with Northern Lights in 1995. That’s TWENTY-THREE YEARS of development. For something that generations upon generations will enjoy. A writer these days is lucky if they get thirteen months to prove themselves; more likely, they’ll get thirteen WEEKS. We’re in danger of losing the Philip Pullmans of tomorrow.

      • Sorry Fiona! I did’nt mean to get under your skin. 😦

        It’s just that, where i am now, (living wise.) my bedroom window gets egged and banged on and we’ve had our window smashed in. We feel under threat here. I am sorry if i upset you in anyway though. I did’nt mean it. 🙂 x

      • Well, as I was saying before I was so RUDELY interrupted by Lousy Festival Internet Connection, Laura I would feel exactly the same if I was in your situation! I really hope you manage to get these hooligans under control. The current government is only making things worse for these kids though. Rising unemployment, cutbacks in local authority spending on things like youth clubs and libraries. Sign every petition, ford every stream of backward, elitist thinking. (OK that was terrible, but I’m tired and anyway, you get the idea!)

  2. There have always been crap books but there are ever more beautiful books being written – and most publishers do hope to discover them. But the pull of the Bottom Line is a killer. hey thanks for mentioning my video – it gave me hope.

    • Me too, Candy! I agree that wonderful books are still being published, but how many potential great writers are out there that we’ll never hear from? Times are hard, and the industry can be short-sighted. See my response to the first comment, above. You happen to have a publisher who is a visionary, and who understands how these things work. He is increasingly in the minority.

  3. OOOOh Ur scaring me now Fiona! I dont know whether I still want to become a writer now…..Lol but your right..It’s so sad that people have stopped reading and actually buying REAL books in favour of getting a kindle or something! I love that feeling when you open a new book and all the pages are crisp and new..On a side note..did you get the e-mail I sent you with the questions for the interview?
    (Jasmine) from EbonyBlackLines

    • Hi Jazz Matazz, have emailed you re: interview… Re: Kindle: for the record, I have nothing against it! Am a fan. Have one, use it, like it. Fulfils a different function from paper books. I find it invaluable for reading manuscripts, and it’s a brilliant way to carry multiple books around. It’s a great invention. The problem is with the threat of illegal downloads; the music industry has been through this, now it’s our turn. A writer friend recently got an email from a fan saying, ‘I really want to read your latest book, where can I read it free online?’ I kid you not. That’s the way things are going. But it’s in your generation’s hands to make a difference: stand up for artists’ rights!

  4. I can’t imagine not having any books. I could never switch to digital stories, I would lose too much of a personal relationship with the book I am reading.

  5. Made me cry to think how plausible it is to lose the printed word…..I had reading on devices, I’d so much rather have a real book to read cover to cover. Not that I’m saying it’s not a real book if it’s on a device, but still, theres something about saying, “I just read 800 pages of L’morte D’Arthur” Or Gone with the Wind, or another one of those impressive reads….or ANY book for that matter! I want to be an author, and the idea of not being able to be a published author and just watching my books gather dust on my own shelf or anyone’s books doing that, makes me extremely sad and disappointed in our world…..

  6. I am 11 and my bookcase is overpacked with books. A lot of people think I’m weird because I’m hardly ever seen without a book, but I think reading books is cool. I think printed books are better; besides you can’t say you’re favourite author has signed their book for you if it’s on a kindle, can you.

    • Hi Brianna, that is so true! It’s the whole books-for-keeps thing. I really treasure all my books that are signed by the authors and illustrators.

      Don’t EVER give into the idiots who think there’s something uncool about loving books. I know what that’s like, and believe me, those same people will soon shut up when they realise how much more you know than they do. They will actually envy you, and as they get older, they will aspire to be the way you are.

  7. I recently attended an author talk by Sophie Hannah, an adult novelist, where she very aptly compared electronic books with skype. If you skype your family and friends, its great and it helps you stay in touch with them but it’s no compensation for seeing them in person, and it’s the same for the book – you can access books virtully in all sorts of ways now, but there’s no compensation for holding the real thing in your hand.

    • Hi Frances! Nice to make contact. 🙂 I think most of us feel that way, but all the same I really like my Kindle, and it’s fantastic for reading a novel that in paper form would be really heavy! See also my reply to Jazz Matazz, above. The main point of my piece has to do with authors’ rights.

  8. I agree completely! My mum has one book published but is finding it impossible to publish others as people just arn’t taking chances with really unknown writers and in my town, we only have 2 book stores and they are part of huge chain store companies. And our library is getting less and less books in, these days its actually 60% DVD’s! It’s madness I tell you!

    • I prefer actual books to ebooks or audio books. You can pick up a book and read it anytime with out worrying about charging your e- reader or iPad/iPod. But that’s just my opinion.

      • I agree Laoise, but the wider issue is how to ensure that writers get paid, that new talent is fostered. There’s room for both books and ebooks in the world; the point is to do with authors’ rights.

    • Charlotte: how depressing! It’s good that people can reach an audience with their work through online publishing, but that’s a bit soul-destroying for anyone who has managed that first rung of the ladder into traditional publishing. Not to mention unpaid. And readers deserve choice; library cutbacks make no sense whatsoever.

  9. I COMPLETELY agree with you on everything here Fiona! (sorry for commenting quite late, but I’m new to this website, and i’ve just spotted this, as I scrolled down your posts after I saw you on here because I really like your books!) Anyway, the thing that I’ve always loved about books is that no matter what happens, however much change or conflict the world goes through, there will always be books, and new words and ideas to read and think about, and the thought that this may have to stop, is a very scary one. To create a better and brighter youth to become the next generation of decicion makers and leaders, the government have to invest in libraries, not cut them! Words are a key to a future key to everyone! They complain about the “youth of today” vandalising and rioting, yet they’re cutting back the resources that can lead them from that into a great future? Madness! I really want to become a writer or politician when I’m older, so I’m really passionate about this issue! Anyway, I LOVE your books, and I’m really excited about reading more of your blogs! Molly x 😀

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