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Apr 13, 2010

Reading in an Age of Change

UPDATE: My Overland piece is now available online. There has been a bit if hype recently -

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UPDATE: My Overland piece is now available online.

There has been a bit if hype recently – some of it self interested – about whether the iPad and other e-readers will be game changers and saviours of media business models. Newspaper managements are naturally hoping that people will pay for content delivered to mobile devices. Rupert Murdoch and his troops are particularly hopeful, since they have stuck their necks out furthest in proclaiming a new era of paywalls.

Like most people, I can’t pretend to know what is going to happen for sure, but I suspect that the e-readers will merely speed up existing trends, rather than changing rules of the game. And the existing trends? More niche media targetting smaller interest groups, and more interaction between content providers and audience members. All this implies a more intense connection between audiences and media outlets, which may mean a greater preparedness to pay for some kinds of content – if it is good enough, and if it can’t be easily obtained elsewhere.

But I very much doubt that large numbers of people will pay for newspapers on the iPad if all they offer is commodotised news that is also freely available elsewhere.

In a deeper sense, though, I do think the nature of reading is changing as a result of technology. I have reflected at this at length in the current issue of Overland magazine, which in conjunction with Meanjin is running a series of pieces on reading in a time of change.

My piece isn’t available online, sadly (irony). [UPDATE: Yes it is.] You will have to fork out for the mag if you want to read it. But there is a blog associated with the joint Meanjin/Overland venture.

To summarise I agree that this will be the year in which e-readers become mainstream, and soon much of our reading will be done on such devices. Books will become “special” objects, rather than utilitarian.

But more significantly, I think the nature of privacy is changing, and that in the future creativity will be seen as residing, not so much in individuals as in the communities that gather around reading and writing.

And I fear that we will lose some of our dark, quiet and private spaces.

Yet at the same time, there is so much to gain.

At the dawn of mass literacy, people worried about whether human beings would lose their ability to remember information. They probably did become less adept at this. Yet who would say that literacy, and the printing press, and all that followed, have been bad things?

We are living through an equivalent change, which is both frightening and exciting.

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