That question came to mind after I finished reading a Wall Street Journal article my dad sent about writer Harry Hurt III, who seems to be at the cutting-edge of self-publishing.
To fund his newest travel memoir e-book, he's accepted the products and funding of various companies in exchange for product placement within the story itself, both through links to products and glowing reviews. He's using the same strategy to pay for his book tour, which will be subsidized by camping gear from Coleman and a $1,000 worth of hotel rooms from Best Western.
Mr. Hurt is quoted as saying:
Our economy is down and the traditional book publishing industry is down, so it's either cry in a corner, or do something about it.
I tend to agree with Mr. Hurt, in that innovative thinking is called for within this hostile publishing climate. I have to assume that in our consumer-oriented culture, Mr. Hurt's strategy will work, especially since he's got a high profile himself as a long-time journalist and the author of previous nonfiction books.
At the same time I'm reminded of the scene in the movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise (Chief John Anderton) is walking into a mall and each enormous billboard on either side of the walkway electronically recognizes him and flashes huge ads specifically targeted at his demographics (age, sex, political affiliation, income, etc.) and, I assume, past purchasing history.
The movies is based on a Philip K. Dick short story based on the concept that "In the future, criminals are caught before the crimes they commit..."
My immediate thought after reading the article about Mr. Hurt's endeavor is that in terms of publishing, in the future, readers are distracted before they can read.
Besides Mr. Hurt's consumer-oriented content, the WSJ article goes on to say that new versions of the Kindle will come with display ads and sponsored screensavers, or those featuring companies, brands, products and services. Then there's the ability of many e-readers to underline, highlight and look up words in the dictionary.
Whether these features are laudable and appreciated or not, the upshot seems clear: the future of reading will include more opportunities than ever for reader to get distracted.
Which brings me back to my answer to today's question:
The reason I love to read is because it's the one place my mind can escape from life's distractions. When I open a hard copy of a book, I know this physical object has no capability to draw me out of the story and back into a world where I have to do something. I won't receive a sound or symbol alerting me to a new email that will inevitably add to my to-do list. The book won't vibrate, ring or otherwise tell me someone is calling about something that will require action. No advertisement will blink at me, dim the lighting or otherwise block my reading experience until I close the popup box.
I figure that 80% of my waking day is spent in a state of distraction where my attention bounces from one source of stimulation to another, so that the only chance I get to sink into restful, meditative thinking is when I 1) write, 2) have an uninterrupted conversation longer than a few minutes (which is rare), and 3) read.
So that's my question for you today:
What, for you, is the point of reading?
If you're feeling extra contemplative:
What do you think about authors like Mr. Hurt who are using whatever means are necessary to succeed in the current and future publishing industry? Should we do as Mr. Hurt advises and stop whining and instead follow where publishing is headed?