Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Books don't burn

Too much doom and gloom in the trade press and from fellow independents these days. The world is going to end soon – the publishing world that is, at least the publishing world as we know it – and there's no going back. Returning from an early Christmas party with some publishing friends, I actually feel much better and more optimistic about the future. OK, independent bookshops and book chains are going bust, but new independent bookshops are opening, and some could be the Dixon's or Waterstone's of the future.

"We are living a once-in-a-civilization revolution", I heard pronounced at an interesting digital conference recently. It may well be so, but things have always changed and evolved. Wasn't the book printed using mobile types as great a revolution towards the end of the 15th century? Wasn't the introduction of the mass-market paperback another great revolution? And the lifting of censorship? What about desktop publishing and computer-to-plate technology? What about digital publishing, and now e-books? We just need to readjust, to absorb the change and move on. The pace of change may make it trickier than in the past, but adjust we must, and adjust we will.

So I can see, ahead of us, a resurgence of independent booksellers and literary publishers. The paper book will not die out. Literature will not die. Hardbacks may even come back into fashion one day. And even if books are no longer be printed on paper – which I struggle to believe – no one can destroy all the ones that have been printed so far.

Bulgakov famously said: "Manuscripts don't burn." I would add to this: "Books don't either."


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