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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - DECADE IN REVIEW - JOHN SELF

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

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