I read something recently regarding what has been selling well on the Kindle. It was bemoaned that while Fifty Shades of Gray is killing it in sales, literary fiction seems woefully under-represented. This follows an ongoing conversation in how well literary fiction may do in print, but not digitally.
Initially, it made me think: Are literary sales bad overall? And if so, is it really due to the medium on which they are available? Or is it the quality of the writing? Perhaps it’s simply supplying the demands of consumer’s who’d rather read what’s popular rather than what’s ‘good’.
But when I really think about it, this debate – for me at least – is moot.
To me, it’s all about reading. I never judge anyone by what they read or what medium they choose to read it on. I’m just thrilled that they are reading.
What upsets me most is the loss of resources (libraries) and access (affordability) to books regardless if digital or printed. These factors are what prevents readers from having access to any genre their hearts desire. Not to mention that it’s detrimental to those that need it the most – children. The true future of book publishing.
If readers and a love of reading cannot be developed, then all this debate about digital versus print, hot erotica versus literary fiction means nothing. Reading books for pleasure will be an affectation of the few, not of the many.
Society will still read, but only because it will have to in order to function, not for recreation. Functional illiteracy seems to be becoming the norm. We will only know enough to get by. But is it enough, because when you look at the numbers, functional illiteracy has more frightening ramifications:
- Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. The 4th grade is the watershed year . . . if a child is not reading proficiently in the 4th grade, he or she will have approximately a 78% chance of not catching up. — http://www.begintoread.com/research/literacystatistics.html
- On average, adults at the lowest levels of literacy earn about $230-$245 per week, work only 18-19 weeks each year, are more than 3x likely to receive food stamps, and are 10x more likely to be living below the poverty line. — http://education-portal.com/articles/Illiteracy_The_Downfall_of_American_Society.html
- In the United States, according to Business magazine, an estimated 15 million functionally illiterate adults held jobs at the beginning of the 21st century. The American Council of Life Insurers reported that 75% of the Fortune 500 companies provide some level of remedial training for their workers. All over the U.S.A. 30 million (14% of adults) are unable to perform simple and everyday literacy activities.
- According to The National Center for Education Statistics, literacy is broken down into three parameters: prose, document, and quantitative literacy. Each parameter has four levels: below basic, basic, intermediate, and proficient. For prose literacy, for example, a below basic level of literacy means that a person can look at a short piece of text to get a small piece of uncomplicated information, while a person who is below basic in quantitative literacy would be able to do simple addition. In the US, 14% of the adult population is at the “below basic” level for prose literacy; 12% are at the “below basic” level for document literacy; and 22% are at that level for quantitative literacy. Only 13% of the population is proficient in these three areas—able to compare viewpoints in two editorials; interpret a table about blood pressure, age, and physical activity; or compute and compare the cost per ounce of food items.
American exceptionalism, I think I found your Achilles heel.
As for you publishers, you may want to look into supporting reading programs as much as you do your bottom line. Looking to the future shouldn’t just include what you are going to sell and how, but whether or not your consumer is even going to be able to read and enjoy your product – or even want to.