The French historian, Fernand Braudel once coined the phrase ‘wisps of tomorrow’ referring to the fact that we generally ignore the future with our obsession with the present.
I suppose one of the most famous quotations referring to ‘tomorrow’ is from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
‘To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow.
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!’
Perhaps we are apt to think of the poetical phrase ‘tomorrow’ as the ‘future’. If we think about this at all, it is usually on the lines of practicalities – marriage, kids, work, house insurance, can we afford a new car next year, etc.
The ‘future’ has been a major source of debate in philosophy, religion (eternity) and science; the definitions have consistently eluded the greatest minds.
Now I don’t want to get all philosophical about the subject of the future, what I really want to talk about is the future of books. There are endless debates to be found on the future of books, as many as the philosophical debates on the subjects I mention above.
A chap called Aldo Manuzio, (Aldus Manutius) Venice, Italy, introduced inexpensive books that were read much like modern paperbacks, some 500 years ago. There will always be people who prefer a book. They enjoy the feel of board, cloth or leather, compared to the coolness of glass and plastic. They prefer the sound of pages flipping than a tap, swipe or click. The sharp smell of a fresh new novel or the musky scent of an old tome exists in a different dimension from the relative sterility of chips and displays. There are, however, distinct disadvantages of traditional books – storing them, carrying them around – and more importantly PRICE.
Electronic books are a lot cheaper to buy than traditional books, and it has been reported that they are, at present, around 30% of sales. This may be a temporary flattening out, but it points to the fact that print books can — and currently do — live alongside ebooks (as opposed to being devoured by them).
I was thrilled to read that as many as a quarter of the top 100 Kindle books on Amazon are from indie authors and I give below a quote below. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if we reached a situation where the majority of the top books are author-published,’ said Orna Ross of the UK Alliance of Independent Authors.
With the advent of retailers such as Amazon, the price of books has come down considerably compared with the price you would pay in a bookshop, which is one of the major reasons so many bookshops are closing down. It is estimated that the number of high street bookshops in Britain has more than halved in just seven years due to the rise of e-books and the consumer downturn, research for The Daily Telegraph has found, and I suspect similar has happened in other parts of the world.
But there is not all doom and gloom on the traditional bookshop front. The opening of the new Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London has shown a tremendous act of faith in bricks and mortar bookselling. This iconic bookstore has endured in private ownership for 111 years but perhaps it is risky at a time when the book trade is in a state of upheaval and bookshops seem under particular threat from Amazon and the supermarkets.
Who knows what the future will bring!