Book vs e-book reader: generation X are now asking why

As the raging debate continues regarding how we will read in the future, I continue to grab my reading material as I run through WH Smiths three minutes before my train is due to leave.

It’s is difficult for me to imagine myself sitting on public transport and booting up my e-book reader and polishing off a chapter or two. It’s akin to producing my new Acer notebook whilst having a cup of tea in Oldham market. I’m a book person and although I see a bright future for the lovely, shiny e-book reader amongst the young and the gadget obsessed, I’m not as pessimistic about the market demand for books just yet.

A post from 2008 on this blog entitles ‘It’s not all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ explores audience and this is pertinent to the book vs e-book reader debate. The demographic above shows that generation X, the offspring of the ’60’s baby boomers are now grown up and hungry. There are more men and women in the 40/50 age demographic than any other and with an increase in longevity these people will require entertainment that doesn’t require staying out past midnight.

As for lifestyle, what are these GenXers doing now? Refugees from a time when music culture ruled, from punk to new romantic, from indie to rave, they’ve done it all and now their own children are in their wake. On the brink of rethinking the ‘never go to bed on the same day you woke up’ mantra in favour of Horlicks and an early night, these people are now looking for something other than smart drugs to feed their minds. They are working as many hours per weeks as their age in years and rushing around on planes and trains as globalisation pushes the working week to it’s limit.

So, what do they read? As far as trends are concerned, an analysis of the media shows that sleb lit has had it’s day and that book sales in November 2009 were 3.5% down on November 2008. Even so, people are still buying books as Christmas presents as sales were up 11% on October 2009 (source The Bookseller). It certainly is gloomy, but a mistake to focus on these sales figures in isolation and make future predictions without taking into account the current recession across all industries and the consequent recover predicted by 2011/12. It also begs the question: is it time for a change? In women’s fiction, the newspaper commentators have been demanding ‘Bridget Jones with a backbone’ and declaring the death of chick-lit, but the market doesn’t reflect this, churning out beach-reads and patronisingly flowery covers. Maybe genXgirls want to read something that they can identify with, something that resonates in addition to chick-lit? Publishers please note: we can multitask, reading two or more genre consecutively.

Even so, the e-book reader impacts on this equation. Whilst these will appeal to the X-box generation who are market led by what is supplied by major brands rather than demanding products, the apparent monopolisation of formats and lack of availability will be familiar. Extrapolated from the games machines market, the e-book reader will soon bundle and brand-war, yet this will not solve the problem of the lack of cross platform products.

Those of us who have limited reading time, limited buying time and do not consider our notebooks as an extension of our identity are unlikely to make the full move to e-book reader as obtaining material means another hour spent online choosing from a virtual listing. The tangible book product will still be demanded by those of us who still start the day at running pace and don’t rely on online content to run our lives. Like gardens, country walks, taking part in sport, stroking a pet and even conversation, reading a book is a communion with another tangible, external source.

Should the literary fiction disappear into the abyss of the anonymous internet, a disposable set of bits and bytes whose value are minimised in terms of the value of their creative meaning in favour as discounting based on production costs, then as authors we truly are screwed. However, I believe that generation X are now slowing down and will, in the next ten years, need a wide range of intelligently produced literary items to fire their neurons as, through the haze of half a decade they begin to ask ‘why?’