Is Reading in Decline?

The Next Generation Reader

While parts of the publishing industry are in crisis, Americans are reading more … at least according to the National Endowment for the Arts’ study, “Reading on the Rise.”

In stark contrast to the downward reading trend some say has characterized the past two decades, that NEA study found the first recorded rise in American reading in 26 years. Great news, certainly.

With Amazon, Nook, Sony, i-Pad and others battling to sell you an ebook reader, reading does not seem to not be in the perilous straits some naysayers might want you to believe.

Bowker, the global leader in bibliographic information (think ISBN numbers), released its 2010 annual report on U.S. book publishing, it projected traditional U.S. print output to increase to 316,480 titles.

It is the non-traditional sector, however, that continues its explosive growth, increasing to an amazing 2,776,260 titles … many created by presses catering to self-publishers, such as me.

When I first got my Kindle it was at a time I had always stated I was determined never to replace a printed book with an electronic version. I’d always found pleasure in the look and feel of a book. I still do.

I’m finding, however, that purchasing and reading electronic books is just so … well … convenient. When traveling I always carried three or four books, or more, along with magazines. I might have taken more (I’m a voracious reader) but it was quite a burden.

Now, when I travel, I have all my reading in one small, simple place. On my Kindle. So has this electronic revolution led to the demise of reading? Probably not. Certainly not in my case.

Hopefully, it will encourage people for generations to come to read the good novels already out there, and the great ones yet to be published. What e-Book readers may do is change the industry that has developed around publishing books in print.

I know a lot of people who would prefer to have a paper book in their hands rather than a machine. For a long time, I was one of them.

However, with the ability to buy books on the go and store hundreds of them on an eBook reader rather than a huge bookshelf in your house, there are a lot of positives for people to take from eBook technology and this attitude is becoming less frequent.

Some people will undoubtedly be sad to see the little bookshop they’ve visited all their life disappear, because the demand for ink-on-paper is no longer there. I’ll be one of them. In this sense the e-Book reader is leading to a demise in traditional publishing, but it’s important to remember … people are still reading!

The e-Book reader has both positive and negative effects on the industry surrounding publication, but I have no doubt it will encourage people to continue reading for many years to come.

At the same time, it may knock apart the industry that produces, promotes and sells printed books. So they scream about the demise of books and the decline of reading.

Every generation rewrites an epitaph for the book; all that changes is the culprit. In the late 1700s, French visionary Louis-Sébastien Mercier predicted that by 2440, the sprawling bookstacks of the Royal Library would be condensed into a single volume.

History proved him right in everything but his timing. The future lay not in expanding information, but in compacting it; scaling it somewhere between an iPod and an iPad.

Over two billion people now have Internet access. So the idea of putting ink on paper may well be an antiquated notion. Quaint, from a previous era, like the horse and buggy.

Still, there is something comforting about the physical experience of bookstores. The serendipity of picking up something you never thought about, just because it was on a display, is irreplaceable.

Or, perhaps what I will certainly miss most dearly, should it come to pass, is the ability to just sit and look at the other human beings around you. And, best of all, have an occasional chance conversation with one … in real time, not on the Internet, but face-to-face.


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7 Responses to “Is Reading in Decline?”

  1. Ron Herron Says:

    Read the news release about my novel “Reichold Street” here:


  2. Ron Herron Says:

    Siobahn –
    treat yourself to a basic Kindle. It will only set you back the cost of a couple of hardcover books … or several paperbacks. I know that can be tough sometimes, but it’s worth it. Amazon downloads are a lot cheaper than printed books. I have no room anymore to store all those books anyway … and I find trips to library inconvenient.

    Or just download the free Kindle app to your PC (or Mac) and read from there (only convenient if you have a laptop, of course). 😉


  3. Ron Herron Says:

    mlfables – You make a good point about the technology being all that is changing … but at the same time you talk about audio books being your favorite medium. You more or less prove my point about reading (sadly). Kind of hard to read a sound wave.


  4. Siobhan McKinney Says:

    I read print books — probably because I’m skint and don’t yet have the dosh to purchase an e-reader,which I agree would be a much more convenient travel ling companion. I live in Northern Ireland, so escape to anywhere usually involves flying and restrictions on baggage allowance [space and weight] means I normally have just my flight read in my hand luggage. I’d love to have several books available so I could have choice to suit my mood. On a trip a few years back, I flew to Australia and read three bulky tomes on the out journey, but only managed that because I purchased them at the airport after I had been checked in. Damned awkward carrying them about. A tiny machine would have been so much handier.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. mlfables Says:

    Reading will never go into decline in a society where basic education is free.

    However, the format we choose to read from is changing, thanks to technology.

    Having said that, I am addicted to audiobooks (I look for the audiobook version first, then the ebook, then finally the paperback version), because when it comes to being on the move, the audiobook is completely hands free. Which is perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ron Herron Says:

    I’m more or less inclined to agree with you, Tim. I like the feel of a book, too … but it is so much more convenient to travel with an electronic eBook reader. I got rid of 175 hard cover and paperback books from my library last year by donating them to charity (I still have more than three enormous bookcases full) … and I will probably thin them out again this year.

    But, like you, there are some I will never part with.

    However, I have to wonder what the coming generation will do (hence the picture on this particular blog). They have books, but they spend far more time with their i-Pads … and they can read books there, too (sigh). No easy answers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. T. W. Dittmer Says:

    I don’t think paper books will die out in my lifetime. There are still too many people that like to have the physical book in their hand. Though I’m pretty addicted to my Kindle, there are still some books I insist on having a hard copy of, some I even want in library edition.

    Liked by 1 person

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