Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reading Isn't Dead

In a column titled Book Lust in yesterday's New York Times, Timothy Egan takes issue with Steve Jobs' comment that the new Kindle e-reader isn't a big deal because reading is dead. It's not the first time that reading has been declared dead; often I think it stems from a mismatch of items compared, when someone who loves books compares how much they read with how much "the younger generation" (as a whole) reads. Every generation since books became readily available has had some people who love books and others who are happier doing something else, so judgments about reading trends only make sense if they are based on the same population. And since much reading is done in private, it is hard to estimate how much people read by what you see them doing.

Yes, lots of kids listen to IPods or get news off the internet; but plenty of kids (many of the same ones) also read manga or science fiction or non-fiction eagerly. There are more options than ever for getting information, and books have staked out one solid, steady corner of the market. It makes sense that faster, ephemeral media meet the demand for day-to-day or hour-to-hour news and information. The stories and narratives that hold up generation after generation are best served by a stable, long-lasting media - like books. Newspapers may have problems competing with the newer media, but books should be fine. As Egan noted, "This year, about 400 million books will be sold in the United States. Overall, business is up 1 percent" in a tough economy. Compare that to the 3.7 million IPods that Apple sold last year, and it starts to look like someone is comparing apples to oranges when they claim that reading is dead.

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