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The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

How technology is making and breaking the publishing industry

Maui Danford

Anytime that technology and innovation progress, there is always the fear that new technology will push out something old and beloved. In a digital era, society now fears for the book.

 Books have been around for centuries as the first form of communication that could be passed from person to person, preserved not only in mind but with a tangible object. Humans first began to write down their stories on clay tablets, then on papyrus, followed by organized writings put into a codex, the predecessor to the modern book. Eventually, with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, the availability and accessibility of books exploded, and reading became a common practice and standard for any civilized person. Since their invention, books have played a significant role in the sharing of ideas and stories, remaining a relevant part of society throughout history. But with the rise of new technologies, such as streaming services, video games and social media, there is a fear that reading will become a thing of the past. 

The data looks grim. According to a survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, the number of participants under 55, who read one book in the past 12 months from 1997-2017, decreased by about  12-14%. Even worse, roughly a quarter of American adults (23%) in 2021 said they had not read a book in whole or in part in the past year by print, electronic or audio form, according to data gathered by the Pew Research Center.

Book sale data, however, directly contradicts conclusions drawn from self-reported reading data. According to data from Words Rated, 2022 was  the second-highest year of book sales in the 21st century, with over 788.7 million copies sold in the U.S., trailing closely behind the record-setting 2021 by 843 million copies sold. E-books also saw a growth in sales in 2020 at 191 million copies, a 12.35 % increase from 2019. So although less people are reading, book sales in both print and e-book are on the rise, with an increasing few purchasing more books. 

This marks the beginning of a shift in reading culture from a common pastime to a hobby held by a niche group, not unlike video games or artistic endeavors. This shift has been largely driven by technology that both pushes people away from books but also pulls people in using the same tools. 

This marks the beginning of a shift in reading culture from a common pastime to a hobby held by a niche group, not unlike video games or artistic endeavors.”

While books used to be a main source of recreation for people worldwide, the rise of technological entertainment in wealthier nations has unseated reading as the main form of passive entertainment.  The average American adult spent 284 minutes or nearly five hours watching television in 2021, compared to the average of a mere 16 minutes of reading time in the same year. This is compounded with the time spent on other forms of technological entertainment, such as social media (145 minutes per day, or about 2.5 hours) and video games (34.2 minutes per day). With the addictive nature of social media, new streaming platforms and endless variety  of video games, books are losing the fight for the public’s attention. 

As for the invested reader, their book consumption is alive and well since a smaller percentage of the population is responsible for a greater part of the books sales. Of the people who have read a book in the last year, according to the Pew Research Center, 92% of them said they have read more than one, with the biggest segment of readers having read 20+ books in the last year (about 22% of people who have read more than one book in the past 12 months). This means that readers are reading more, and that’s also thanks to the same technologies that are harming it.  

Social media has had a large impact on the book industry, with voracious readers sharing book recommendations on sites like TikTok, which fuel books sales. The bestselling books for 2023 on Amazon, the largest booksellers in the U.S., like “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus, “The Fourth Wing” series by Rebecca Yarros and the many romantic offerings of Colleen Hoover all sit near the top of the list after gaining success on the niche literary side of TikTok, known as BookTok. Similarly dominating the charts are books like “Spare” by former royal Prince Harry and “The Woman in Me” by pop-sensation Brittany Spears, which are both memoirs written by famous people who can leverage their social media presence to sell books. 

In addition to social media’s large influence on book sales, Hollywood also has a large impact on book sales. This is seen with the science fiction sensation “Dune” by Frank Herbert, a book that was quite popular among science fiction-fantasy circles but did not enter the mainstream until Warner Bros announced that a movie adaptation of the book was in production. According to BookNetCanada, copy sales of “Dune” skyrocketed by 153% in September 2020 in Canada after the release of the teaser trailer for the movie. This sparked interest in the franchise, encouraging people who might not have known about the series to read up on the story in preparation for the movie. In a similar fashion, this is seen in one of the most famous novels of all time, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling, which saw massive success following the release of the first movie. According to Words Rated, in the four weeks that followed the “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” movie, its book sales more than tripled over the previous four weeks, with 956,700 units sold. 

As new forms of entertainment rise to prominence, the popularity of books has diminished and may continue to diminish over the next couple decades. But books will never diminish entirely, while stories are still being told. The popularity of books might, as other forms of entertainment have been, be relegated to a more niche group of people. Books are still the most condensed form of storytelling available, and while they might not be as flashy as movies or TV shows, they still fulfill the same role of escapism and allow people to go somewhere else for a while. And as the entertainment industry continues to entwine with society, books, movies and TV shows will continue to build off each other and tell stories to an ever-evolving generation of audiences.

What do you think about how the book industry is evolving? Let us know in the comments. 

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About the Contributors
Ella Wampler
Ella Wampler, Staff Writer
Senior Ella Wampler is a staff writer for Southpaw and Bearing news. She adores the 2017 remake of Murder on the Orient Express, ongoing inside jokes and consuming unreasonable amounts of caffeine.
Maui Danford
Maui Danford, Staff Photographer
Senior Mpawenayo (Maui) Danford is a staff photographer for Bearing News and Southpaw at Rock Bridge High School.

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