"The Times They Are a-Changin’ "

Bob Dylan’s lyrics couldn’t describe in a more efficient manner what we’re dealing with as we look at the future of journalism and publishing. The Associated Press reported today that the Boston Globe plans to cut 50 more newsroom jobs as they try to deal with “falling advertising revenue, declining circulation and readership shifts to the Internet.”

As a reader and a freelance writer it’s sad for me to see the decline of physical newspapers. One of my most treasured memories from my childhood is my grandfather sitting in his chair, reading the daily paper and catching up on the news. It made me want to read the paper and see what was so darn interesting about a recap of the daily events. I still remember the first thrill I had in college when I had my first byline on the front page of the student newspaper. Now, all those newspapers I was published in sit in a box in storage, collecting dust. Most of them were never published online because it was on the old website then; one without sufficient online archives. If I want to find an article I wrote, I have to sort through a few boxes of old papers.

When The New York Times decided to make their newspaper available for free online, it changed the way I read my daily news. When literary bloggers started providing links to the latest in the publishing world, I bookmarked the sites and then eventually compacted it all into my Google Reader– a nice and indexed way to get my daily dose of what’s going on. It’s true that it’s so much easier nowadays to be connected to what’s happening around the world. I’m a huge fan of the internet and all the convenience of digitalization of print.

That doesn’t stop me from worrying, though, about how it will effect the future of books. It’s one thing to get your news and blogs in a digitized manner. It’s another thing to put pages and pages and pages of books on the Kindle and threaten the future of independent bookstores. I still prefer to read books in their original format, thank you very much. The process of reading an actual book is something tactile and not just about the words themselves. So when my friend sent me a link this morning to a blog post from Gutenberg.com explaining how 2009 will be the year of the Ebook, I read it with the utmost skepticism. Would I like to try an e-reader? Sure. I don’t think having one will replace books entirely, though, in the same way that iPods makes it so people don’t really feel a need for their CD’s anymore.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m approaching the digital reading revolution in a circular fashion. I’m like a dog who is spinning around and around, trying to find a comfortable spot. I am all for advances in technology but not if it replaces entirely the importance of the object itself.

What are your thoughts?

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3 Responses to "The Times They Are a-Changin’ "

  1. Halahblue says:

    I feel like reading online and digital readers will never replace books. However, I also really loved my pretty CD collection displayed on my wall for years, then eventually got an iPod. I adore it.

    It makes me wonder about books eventually becoming extinct. I hope not. We will be a culture full of people with very little sensory involvement in the world if everything we want is in a tiny metal or plastic rectangle. How sad would that be?

  2. Michele says:

    I think that CDs and books are completely different. I love my iPod also and don’t really feel a need to hold on to CDs. Books are different, though. I can’t explain why. They just are. Maybe it’s that we’ve grown up with books as objects, and it’s not as easy to transfer those to a digital device. There’s something satisfying about turning the pages, smelling the old or new paper, and being able to flip back and forth very easily and write in the margins if you’re so inclined.

    It would be a very sad day if books are completely replaced by digital devices. Let’s try to make sure that never happens!

  3. I, too, alternately applaud and despair over the digital-driven changes in publishing.

    Since high school, I have loved daily newspapers, and I find the alarming decline of their quality–on both a national and local level–to be extremely unsettling.

    It’s really scary when a morning newspaper leads with an event that was reported the previous afternoon–and it shares the page with a vapid “lifestyle” syndicated article.

    I don’t know what the Boston Globe is saving by not having Royal Ford do the auto reviews, but I certainly find it hard to get excited about auto reviews written by a San Diego auto review that doesn’t tell me how a car will perform in my Dover snow and ice-choked driveway.

    The thing that has to be remembered, tho, as Seth Godin, David Meerman Scott, and numerous have proven is that when readers like an e-book, they have no trouble buying the print version.

    I applaud your use of the term “tactile,” to describe the pleasure of reading a book, and–in the case of photo books–smelling the fresh ink.

    What is alarming, however, is the poor design–from the readability aspect–of many printed books, in the face of the success of well-designed best-selling books like those by Malcolm Gladwell, etc.

    Thanks for the tweets and your blog, and River Run’s solid investment in community book selling and event marketing. Just today, at breakfast, a Dover photographer was saying how he often researches online, but visits your store.

    Roger C. Parker

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