NOTHING HAS QUITE TURNED OUT AS WE PREDICTED
Over the past decade, technology has utterly transformed how we read, but the kind of books we choose to read has hardly changed at all
Here we are at the end of another decade, and we still haven’t decided what to call it. The teens? The twenty-tens? The lost decade? You’d think that book people would be good with titles. Yet the publishing world has always been a slow-moving thing, more a zeppelin than a drone: it’s still typically a year or so between an author finishing a book and the end product appearing on the shelves.
Still, it seems like a good time to look at what has changed in the world of books both in Ireland and further afield in (how about this?) the Tenties.
First, how we read. Once upon a time reading was a simple affair and a book was made of paper. Then in late 2009 Ireland, among other countries, had its first sight of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, which had been launched in the US two years previously. The delay might have been intended to build up sufficient appetite that we primitive Europeans would gather round the grey plastic slabs stroking them deferentially like the apes around the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001
(or launch day in an Apple store).
Kindles have indeed been hugely popular, sending other e-readers into a tailspin. They make it easy to search a novel for a favourite line, enlarge the text for tired eyes, and accumulate a library of unread books in a way that would previously have required a large house and an understanding spouse.
They have also created a thriving subculture of the fiction reading market. Amazon’s self-publishing programme enables writers to bypass traditional publishers (and those year-long lead times) and find a hungry readership, often for genre fiction. You can even, with a monthly subscription, read as many Kindle ebooks as you like without keeping them. Yes, Amazon, with its unerring capacity for monetising the everyday, has invented the library you have to pay for.
Amazon is also behind the growth of another way of reading in the past decade: the audiobook. In 2010, if you wanted to listen to one, you had to invest in a box of CDs and were restricted to bestsellers. Now, Amazon-owned Audible has more than 400,000 books in its catalogue, mostly accessed by streaming. Audible believes itself to be the single biggest employer of actors in New York, and listening to an audiobook read professionally is a world away from the days of the