When I first started touring with Cirque Du Freak in early 2000, I confidently predicted to any teacher, librarian or bookseller that I thought digital books would overtake sales of traditional books within the next 20 years. That statement was met with a lot of scepticism (and occasionally outright horror) but time seems to be in the process of proving me right!
I love the entire concept of e-books. As a child growing up in rural Ireland in the 1980s, I had very limited access to books. It was hard to know what was happening in the world of children's literature, and harder still to get access to new, exciting novels. The internet has changed all that. Now it's possible for readers anywhere in the world to have instant access to any book that grabs their interest.
The arguments that naysayers make against e-books don't hold water. They're always sentimental objections. “You can't replicate the feel and smell and physical experience of a REAL book.” Well, so what?!? The words, ultimately, are all that's really important. It doesn't matter if they're carved into stone, written on papyrus, printed on paper, or downloaded to a digital screen. Stories are about the sharing of ideas, imaginations, experiences, questions. The method of delivery is inconsequential.
It's like when you get a present — nobody truly cares about the packaging, just what's inside!
Now, having said that, I must admit that personally I've yet to read an e-book. Like the naysayers, I'm emotionally attached to physical books, the same way I'm attached to CDs and DVDs. I'm an old-school collector. I like having objects which I can touch and look at.
But that's a weakness on my part. I don't prefer physical books because they're better to e-books — I simply stick with them because I'm stuck in my ways and slow to change. I will make the leap eventually, and I'm sure I'll love it when I do, but it's often difficult to adapt to new technology when you're accustomed to old, outdated methods. I'm sure there were plenty of people in the early twentieth century who refused to sit in a car, being much happier with a horse and cart. There are probably still some computer pioneers who prefer backing up their data onto floppy discs than USB Flash Drives.
But the masses will always go with the flow when it becomes clear to them that life is much better with the new advances. And e-books ARE better. Here are just a few reasons why. From a reader's point of view, they're going to make reading much more accessible than it has ever been. Readers are going to be able to read far more widely than they did before.
From a writer's point of view, we all start out as readers. If we have access to more books when we're growing and maturing, we will be able to draw ideas from a broader palette, hopefully resulting in a fresh raft of genre-blending stories.
From a publisher's point of view, as e-books take over, they will be able to release books more swiftly — no more long waits while they typeset! Also, they can take more chances and publish less obviously mainstream novels. Since there won't be all the print costs involved, they can push out more books and promote novels that aren't just standard crowdpleasers.
The shrinking of the high street book sector has led to a narrower publishing field than ever, where writers are forced by the demands of the market to deliver a safe, easily marketable option. In the world of e-books, cross-pollination of genres will be far more attractive. In a book store, where space is limited, a book must by necessity be placed in a single, clearly defined part of the store, i.e. in the section for Thrillers or Horror or Historical or Crime or Romance.
In an estore, there need be no limitations. If a book contains elements of Horror AND History AND Romance, why not list it in all three sections? Promote it in three different ways, to three different sets of readers, bringing them together and opening each set up to fresh ideas and options.
Publishers will be able to redefine the reading boundaries and gently guide their readers into areas which they might previously have steered clear of. In this new world, you don't have to read just one type of genre. There will no longer be a need for pulishers and writers and booksellers to narrow our options and drive the market in a series of strictly pre-defined directions. It's going to be access all areas as e-books proliferate and minds are opened.
We're at the start of a revolution, and over the coming years e-readers will evolve and technical wizardry will take e-books into every home in the world. It's going to make reading more popular than ever, placing books more firmly in the camp of mass entertainment, along with movies, music and video games, which is where they have always deserved to be.
A lot of so-called reluctant readers approach books with caution, because they mistakenly see them as primarily an educational tool. Now that books are available digitally, to be downloaded along with their favourite games, songs, comics and movie clips, people will realise that writers like me are, more than anything else, trying to excite, entertain and enthuse them. And I think that will bring droves of new readers flocking to our work.
We're in the early stages of a whole new era. The last time something this important happened was when Gutenberg introduced modern book printing to the world. That revolution helped books spread to more corners of the planet than ever before. This revolution will take them even further, faster, and I'm absolutely thrilled to climb on board and be a part of it. Viva e-books! Viva The Word!!
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