I get a daily update on the state of the book publishing biz from "Galleycat" and quite often they include book sale figures.
The news on that front is always depressing. I think a story from yesterday's news feed indicated that mass market paperback sales are down nearly 41% from a year ago.
Ye Gods. Paperback sales have plummeted, hardcover sales pretty much the same thing...aren't people buying physical books these days? One sees monstrous sales figures for eBooks, numbers of "tablet" devices growing almost exponentially and you have to wonder if books really are destined to become relics, like vinyl albums. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but when even paperback sales are tanking, sheesh, a confirmed bibliophile is left to ponder what the future might have in store for his beloved tomes.
Then again, take a look at my own book buying habits. I buy a lot of used books--the truth is, when I walk into a bookstore these days, I really don't find much in the way of fiction that interests me. The reading demographic the box stores seem to be shooting for is stupid, semi-literate and narcissistic. And indie bookstores have almost ceased to exist. Their slim margins further eroded by relentless competition from the chains and then, the final death blow, the internet. Hello, Amazon and AbeBooks, good-bye local mom and pop operations.
Which leaves used book joints and the aforementioned on-line sources (who could resist such selection, at cut-throat prices?). While I don't have a tablet, I do have a library card and I've made good use of the inter-library loan system to bring in books of interest. Sorry, as a parent with two teenage boys and bills to pay, I don't have forty bucks to spend on a new hardcover or $22-25 for a trade paperback. Have you seen the way my kids eat?
So book sales might be down but the number of readers, at least in my view, isn't declining. Far from it. It's just there are more venues out there, more ways of acquiring or reading a book than ever before. The format may change, morph as technology evolves, but the printed word will always retain a special place in human consciousness, notable for its ability to sustain and entertain us in our darkest hour or moments of transformative joy.
"In the beginning was the Word..." and that word, often translated and interpreted, resides at the heart of human experience, connecting us with the eternal...and the divine.
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