It happens every spring, but this year, the questioning has been particularly intense. Every month of April, on occasion of the London Book Fair, newspapers publish articles speculating if it still makes sense to publish books.
Only 3% of the population read books, so what?
At the turn of the 21st century, one thousand
book titles were published for every feature-length film made. Today,
the ratio is one to six hundred. The number of films produced every
year has increased and, at the same time, the number of published books
"We live in a visual world," sociologists argue.
"In many areas, the written word is becoming a relic of previous
centuries." Media analysts blame the trend on video-games and portable
DVD players. Others simply say that reading requires too much effort
after our long work schedules.
Three factors that make books irreplaceable
In my view, those commentators are
missing the point completely. Despite the abundance of cheap visual
entertainment, readers' motivation remains strong. The reason why people
read books has nothing to do with the demands of society and everything
to do with individual psychology.
1. Presentation of well-argued minority views
media, due to its structure and economics, is unable to express minority
views in a consistent, intellectual manner. In this respect, all has
been tried and all has failed. Complex ideas cannot be transmitted
without the written word. No photograph and no film can replace a chain
of reasoning built in clear sentences.
2. Access to diverse, complex ideas
television, and radio, despite the growing number of channels, can only
thrive when they aim at large audiences. They can offer multiplicity in
the multitude, but no original ideas. Digital video has reduced the
budget necessary to make a film, but not the distribution costs.
Actors, good lighting, and a decent soundtrack are still expensive.
Books, on the other hand, can still be published and distributed
3. Direct contact with innovative reasoning
In a film, special effects cannot cure
the problems of a weak scenario. Even great acting is unable to sustain
a filmed story that doesn't make any sense. How long ago is it since
you saw a really thought-provoking film? How often do you gain deep
insights from watching television? The written word remains the ideal
means to transmit innovative ideas.
The good news about reading
is that three per cent of the population still remain avid readers. One
out of thirty-three is not a bad proportion at all. A strong audience
for writers is still there and it is not going to become smaller in the
Do people read internet blogs for the same
reason that they love books? Is it because they want to read original
ideas? Do they do it in order to enjoy some fresh writing? I suspect
that, for most, the main drivers are the joy of discovering something
new and a steadfast refusal to join the other thirty-two.
For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living
[Image by jucanils under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]