I am often asked at book club meetings for my opinion on the future of the book in its printed form. I spend too much time in front of a screen, but quite apart from that, for me, the convenience of technology can never replace the pleasure of ownership, opening the first page of a new book and creasing the spine.
Watching an recent episode of Grand Designs, it was the presence of bookshelves that turned a sterile modern buiding into a home, representing a life well-lived.
I believe that discounting has devalued the written word. £8.99 is not a high price to place on the value of what represents a year or more in the life of a writer, but Supermarkets selling books as loss leaders have made us reluctant to pay more for a paperback than we would for the price of a monthly magazine. And bookshops fighting for survival have been forced to follow their lead. As a consumer, I am lured inside by 3 for 2 offers, but I am also aware how they influence my choice of reading material, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. I might experiment with my ‘free’ book and discover something wonderful, or I might pick up something that will remain on the shelf – and there are few things more tragic than a book that remains unread.
Similarly, I bought two CDs yesterday (one new, one a piece of 80s nostalgia) for under £10.00. I wasn’t looking for a bargain, simply shopping on-line at the going rate. Even as I entered my card details, I thought, That can’t be right. As a child, I saved my pocket money to buy an LP, then I played it to death and learned all of the lyrics, appreciating it all the more. It was something that I placed a value on. And that is before I start to consider the things of beauty that were album covers…
As usual, I digress. If technology introduces a new generation to the pleasures of reading, then that is a fantastic thing. With 2011 set to be the year when digital sales nudge past the sale of paperbacks, traditionalists may be forced to revise their idea of what constitutes a book. Readers and writers wishing to join the debate should try www.futureofthebook.org.