Saturday, December 27, 2008


How Much Are Traditional Books in Decline?

In its 'Looking to 2009' feature today Michael Tomasky, the Guardian's US editor, sees the future of the book being threatened in the coming year. He cites in evidence the unspecified number of lay-offs by Random House in its 'sweeping restructuring' not to mention the dramtic current growth in 'e-books'.

Meanwhile we learn that the web has overtaken newspapers as the main sourse of news for respondents to a Pew Research survey in the US. The percentage of those using rthe web as their 'main source of news' leapt from 24% to 40% in just one year. Newspapers managed only 35% and TV slipped from 74 to 70. Advertising revenue is drying up and recent job losses are bound to increase as the recession bites.

Readers aged under 29 favoured the web by 59% compared to 34%, equal to TV but with the papers on a dismal 28%. So the writing seems to be on the wall. Is this a good thing? I'm not sure. The key thing, from the point of view of democratic health, is that voters imbibe sufficient to use exercise their judgement wisely. At the moment I have to say, my feeling is that young people absorb far too little. My students at two universities, with honourable exceptions, seem to be isolated from current events and most developments seem to pass them by. Their most regular source of newspaper news would appear to be tabloids or the free-sheet Metro.

Political apathy in terms of ignorance and low turnout is a condition that web based news and comment might very well mitigate. I hope I'm wrong but my experience so far is that news taken in via the web is even skimpier than that elicited currently from the printed media. As a writer of politics books and a teacher of the subject,I find this depressing so I do hope Tomasky is proved wrong.

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