“The Dumbest Generation”? Depends whom you ask…

I’m at Book Expo America in LA this week, so here are a few random thoughts and links that I”ve stored on the shelf:

A thought-provoking piece appears in the current issue of Newsweek, called The Dumbest Generation? Don’t Be Dumb, discusses a new book by Mark Bauerlien of Emory University: The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30)

The reviewer writes:

It really aggravates him that many Gen-Yers are unapologetic about their ignorance, dismissing the idea that they should have more facts in their heads as a pre-Google and pre-wiki anachronism.

Here’s a contrary perspective from another author, who happens to be the moderator of the session I’m currently sitting in (“Scaling the New Economies: In Search of Book Publishing’s 2.0 Business Model”)

In “Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age” – published in hardcover last November, and now available for the Kindle – author Jeff Gomez challenges authors and publishers to think creatively about the new medium: “It’s not about the page versus the screen in a technological grudge match. It’s about the screen doing a dozen things the page can’t do.” Digitized words should count for more. “What’s going to be transformed isn’t just the reading of one book, but the ability to read a passage from practically any book that exists, at any time that you want to, as well as the ability to click on hyperlinks, experience multimedia, and add notes and share passages with others.”

So we seem to be moving towards a grazing style of literary consumption, and away from the more traditional “three square meals a day” paradigm. It’s now possible to read a few pages of your favorite novel on your iPhone while in line for the ATM or in the airport departure lounge. Or listen to it on your iPod. That is if you’re not too busy Twittering…The whole world is suffering from digital ADD.



For an opposing view on the digital future, involving a Print on Demand offering see this letter:



Score: Teen Fiction 1, Video games 0

An encouraging piece of news appeared in Newsweek’s web edition on May 19:

Generation R (R Is for Reader)

The book business may be flat, but there’s at least one bright spot: the booming sales of books for teens–and no, it’s not all Harry Potter. Contrary to the depressing proclamations that American teens aren’t reading, the surprising truth is they are reading novels in unprecedented numbers. Young-adult fiction (ages twelve to eighteen) is enjoying a bona fide boom with sales up more than 25 percent in the past few years, according to a Children’s Book Council sales survey. Virtually every major publishing house now has a teen imprint, many bookstores and libraries have created teen reading groups and an infusion of talented new authors has energized the genre.

And one publishing executive quoted sheds some light on a trend that might be behind this development:

“because of MySpace, Facebook, blogs and authors’ and publishers’ Web sites, young readers are communicating interactively now with each other and with authors.” Another reason for the YA boom cited by Levithan and others is that teen books have become an integral part of today’s overall pop-culture entertainment menu. They segue into television series, movies, videogames, cartoons and the Internet. If teens see that, say, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” is coming out in theaters, they’ll read the book in advance of the movie.

This is a trend that smart publishers will pick up on, and leverage the rise of social media to drive a huge market that lives on the net to become lifelong readers. Think of it: releasing a new chapter a week of an up and coming YA author’s latest novel in digital format, building audience and loyalty as readers post them on their blogs, on their Facebook page, create fan clubs, etc. THis is one use case in which free will lead to higher sales, because unless everyone has a Kindle (or possibly an iPhone), many readers will opt to go out and buy the book rather than read the whole thing on a tiny cellphone screen. Maybe this strategy would’t move the needle on sales of Harry Potter books, but there are plenty of lesser known works that could find a new audience using this approach. It could also breathe new life into publisher’s backlist.