I had a few minutes to spare on Sunday, and wandered into WHSmith where I lost myself in reading the blurb on the back of many of the paperbacks in the bestseller chart. It’s a while since I checked out what kind of literature is captivating the public, and it does bring out some competitiveness in me.
However, I may be rather too late to win the race to the bookshelves, if I’m to believe the bleak vision of the future of publishing painted by Ewan Morrison in his Guardian article Are books dead, and can authors survive? He gloomily predicts that “writing, as a profession, will cease to exist”, because writers will offer their work for free in a digital environment that increasingly provides free content. He argues that in the future writers “will labour under the delusion that they can be successful in the way writers were before” and that the writer will become “an entrepreneur with a short shelf life, in a world without publishers or shelves”.
I find that terribly sad: a world without bookshelves with pages to discover and novels to nose through. I know I’m of a generation that still reads newspapers and loves to carry a paper novel in her handbag. I feel no envy or curiosity for the Kindle, even though I know that my dinosaur reading preferences will eventually be zapped by snappier, whizzier reading mechanisms. If paper books have just one generation left, then I’m glad that I taught my daughter (now seven) to love books. A visit to the library is still a treat for her – as indeed it was for me as a child – and the one item she has taken with her to her nana’s this week is a ‘long’ book that will take her all week to read.
As a writer, maybe I am delusional about any book I write keeping me in the luxury to which I would love to become accustomed. Self-publishing an e-book is an option, of course, especially if the advances paid by publishers are a fraction of what they used to be.
But as I caress my keyboard, shaping and snipping, creating and culling the chapters of my novel, and letting inspiration flow through my fingertips, I’m choosing to labour under that delusion a little longer.