The future of books

By Emmanuel Anyole. Emmanuel, 25, is studying for his BA in Literature and Linguistics at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

There is a peddled belief that suggests, “In the future people will cease to own books.” Some go further to state that in the next generation, there will be no physical books but rather digital content since the ageing demographic would be gone with their preferences. I suggest we should clap to that.

Earlier this year, the Africa’s Writers’ Trust umbrella hosted an International public dialogue on writing and publishing, “Where is Africa’s Great Novel?” at Fairway Hotel, Kampala (Uganda). The literary event gathered several literary scholars; writers; editors and enthusiasts inter alia.

One of the pertinent remarks emanating from the discussion was that the biggest market for African works lies in the “West”-in other words we are somewhat at the mercy of the new culture lords (the service providers and the advertisers). It was widely accepted that accessibility of literature like infotainment is paramount for the target audience response. One of the proponents to this claim can be best demonstrated by the short video by the humanitarian group, Invisible Children, Inc with the view of pontificating LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony to garner support for his arrest by December 2012. Within a space of six days after its release (March 05th, 2012) the Kony 2012 short film reached 100 million views on YouTube. This belief is one of the pillars to the much emphasized digital revolution and its rippling effect on the publishing milieu.

Literary sage cum jack of all trades, Okot P’Bitek made a statement in 1969 regarding his epic poem, Song of Lawino. He stated, “I hope my Song of Lawino for instance will be relevant in fifty years time to some historians.” There is not one student from my faculty who’ll graduate without making reference to the abundant Oral Tradition in his collection of Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol and of these you can only find limited copies in the selected bookstores or the public library. It has been two years since Google announced plans to have its own online bookstore, an estimated 130 million copies of “known” books would be scanned, putting Google in competition with other online bookstore service providers Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble.

Literature, a vehicle of culture, ought to survive on its own which relevance is revered to date.

The rise of the social elites could be said to be one of the vehicles of this digital prophetic assurance. Uganda marked fifty years of Independence last month (October 09th, 2012), and key to this historical significance was the common reference to the “Jubilee Youth”, or if you like, generation Y-ers who have an insatiable appetite for the digital cuisine-ranging from news and gossip, to mobile apps among others. However, much as I would like to admit the legitimacy of this claim, I do have my doubts. Whereas the urbanites could have access to the holy grail of mobile invention, not many of their kindred in the rustic are familiar or possess the same enthusiasm. Many find it hard to secure a bank loan; many more do not have a bank account or have time to open an email account. That is another glaring reality.

Government through her policy of education for all has availed opportunities for families to have their children access school and learning opportunities inexpensively. However there have been challenges to this, as many barely make it through the system. Education for me is a costly privilege, as I can identify with that child who has to struggle to just make it through one term. Reading however has been a cure, reading to me dwarfs mere existing—my obsession with knowledge has become the currency with which I can purchase life’s goods. Analysts predict a collapse of the old and an emergence of the new. This “structural change”; is said to be rapid from the standpoint of efficiency and would do away with certain bottle necks of the “old”.

One of the concerns in this industry also faced elsewhere in the music and film industries is loss due to piracy which among many other precautionary measures portends a survival challenge in the future of paper back books’ chain of production; stemming from the middle men, the binders to the publisher houses and book shops. Also, there has been a massive outcry pertaining to little or no government legislation however in the tightest of environments, piracy has continued to thrive.

The clamor for minimal living wage has been profound, especially for the artisans. In the past, notable beneficiaries of this philanthropy include Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare among others. However, so much has transpired since that incentive was extended. In present day, some writers have been witch hunted for their criticism of the existing political governing systems. You have to consult a fetish priest before that can happen. In fact, my grandmother says for that to happen, she would have to successfully bite a wire between her worn out teeth. Most writers I know earn their living by doing commissioned work which is paid for by the company or employer.

In the future, we should refer to this rapid invention as the vehicle and not the cause of the paradigm shift. Further, in the future, paperback books will not cease to exist but will face a decline as the new invention of the kindle and Jesus tablet penetrate the market forcibly after all the people who own the access supply the power for all the technology and those that make the gadgets.

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