Today at a speech to Frankfurt Book Fair I issued a stark warning to libraries and the publishing industry, telling them that they risk losing entire generations of readers to film and social media by limiting the use of ebooks in libraries.
Right now we are placing at imminent risk the entire library service. The cause is that the publisher will not allow the arrival of the technology of ebooks in public libraries. The solutions when they emerge appear to be even more costly distribution platforms and systems and more expensive books. Nothing could be more ludicrous - for this is the technology that makes the whole idea of a public library become infinitely more practical than it has ever been.
The whole point of the ebook technology is that the world distribution and replication costs are nil. Denying libraries access to these ebooks will make them redundant very fast. We will actually close the libraries down by removing the oxygen from their lungs - but if we close the libraries by doing this - it is not hard to predict and believe that in only a few years, maybe a decade, we will have reduced the publishing market to a fraction of what it is now. We will destroy a large part of reading and with it, publishing, as more than half reading now takes place with books from libraries - a fact many publishers don't realise.
In the UK we are forever seeing government studies being conducted to find out whether libraries are still relevant, in a way that makes one suspicious of their motives. But I can explain the vital role of our libraries in just a few lines.
As Shakespeare would have had it - we use libraries in all the ages of our life - a small child enjoys stories; a schoolgirl discovers the author no teacher ever revealed; a student learns; in middle age we find the solace of reading and as we grow older and more alone we find the sheer pleasure of time to read what one has not done during working life.
There is a marked difference between someone who reads and someone who does not - the simple cultural quality of a life that is enhanced and civil.
That is why this is not the moment to be restricting the use of ebooks in libraries. Ebook technology offers wonderful opportunities and the removal of books from libraries is the opposite of what should be happening. The connection from author to reader - the industry in which we all participate - now has possibilities that never existed. This is not the time to flounder and fail. This is not the time to give up on a generation and, because of our internal disputes, allow them to turn to film and the social media for their understanding of literature and culture. The responsibility is to a generation who will find e-reading on smart phones and as yet unseen devices to be perfectly normal part of their life and of their own education.
If we don't do it, the world will be less civilised and a lot of people will lose their living - it's as simple and as important as that. We must start now.
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