Out of Style: Are Books Going Extinct?

Move over Shakespeare, Kylie Jenner is the new legend of literature.

Out of Style: Are Books Going Extinct?

It’s hard to believe that in the past, reading books was considered to be a vital source of entertainment. Now in the 21st century, watching television, browsing on social media and Facetiming your beau are considered to be the main sources of entertainment for the young generation.

According to the University of Texas Arlington Online, during the Industrial Revolution, increasing reading and literacy levels became a main priority for the American Colonies. It’s main goal was for literacy to be prominent across the country, which proved to be successful. Reading became a popular past time across the United States and Europe, with literacy rates reaching 70 percent in parts of the U.S during the 1920s. This trend increased and by the 1940s, the Census Bureau and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) found that in 1942, 40 percent of Americans were reading literature in their spare time. These rates continued increasing progressively until the early 1980s. At this point, the NEA were estimating that around 95 million Americans read literature at least once a year.

Then it dropped

From 1982 to 2002, there was a 10 percent drop in literacy and reading rates across the U.S according to the NEA. As the times were beginning to change, the rise of entertainment media was proving to be a major setback for the book industry. When smartphones and more readily accessible internet was introduced in the early 2000s, the interest in reading began decreasing for the younger generation.

Even though reading has been shown to improve your physical and mental health, many people especially the American youth doesn’t tend to take advantage of that statistic. According to Pew Research Center, a quarter of American adults say that they don’t engage in any forms of novel reading. In fact in 2018, it was shown that 24 percent of American adults say they have not read a book  in print or electronically in the past year.

While there many conflicting reports on how social media has affected reading, Prof. Jayne Burt-Ozyildirim, an adjunct instructor for the School of Liberal Arts who is also a Writing Specialist for Mercy College’s Center for Academic Excellence, believes that social media can be a major positive for writers to promote their work.  She  knows many authors who have used social media to increase their book sales. “Relatively unknown or niche authors can get much more attention for their work with a post about a book launch or some witty posts about related issues,” said Ozyildirim.  “Some authors even build a fan base through social media with just general observations or clever meme-sharing. So, from a sales standpoint, I think it has been a boon for both authors and for the smaller, lesser-known publishing houses.”

However, not everyone believes that social media is benefiting the book industry. Soliany Santiago, a junior at Mercy College, believes that the popularity of social media is leading to students being less likely to pick up a book and read, whether its online or in print. “Everything on social media is intended to keep a user logged in to distract them The visual aspects are designed for the benefit of the company,” said Santiago.

Even though the popularity of social media can be used to promote many underground authors, many teenagers are known to spend more time scrolling through different social media platforms than reading a novel.  According to CNN, teenagers living in the United States spends an average of seven hours a day on social media and none of that includes doing school work or reading books for enjoyment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they found that Americans over the age of 15 years old spend an our about 0.28 hours reading for personal interest each day. CNN also reports that around Fifty-three percent of American kids have a personal smartphone by 11 years old and at eight years old, 1 in 5 children have their own smartphone.

Professor Claire Bush, a Mercy College tutor at the Center for Academic Excellence, buys into the notion that social media is negatively affecting book sales. “Reading itself is being threatened as we see that tweets and messaging in general, do not promote reading deep or long” said Bush. “Once people no longer read deeply or spend significant time reading, they will, and in fact are, forgetting how to read except for short, simple, unsupported statements.”

During the COVID-19 era, the necessity for online novels has become more important for some. Many bookstores are closed due to safety concerns and the cost of shipping for many novels sometimes exceeds the price of the book itself. As an alternative, many students are opting to purchase online versions on novels (e-books) instead of reading the traditional paperback book. According to Statista.com, over 335.7 million e-books were sold in the United States in 2019. Even though print book market is still relatively healthy with it bringing in 689.45 million units according to Statista, the e-book market is coming in strong and is quickly approaching the popularity of print books.

However, many Mercy College professors are not as fond of e-books like many teenagers are. For professor Bush, she enjoys the many benefits to e-books such as  enlarging the text, she notices how this new format of books can stray away seniors in the community. ” Progressive seniors or at least people whose 50 -year- old eyes are beginning to pose problems must be abandoning books for kindles and the like.  I know I have” says Bush. “There are many people who steadfastly adhere to physical books, in one part, for nostalgia, but on a more practical level, physical books do allow for underlining and note-writing. Yes, you can kind of do that on a kindle but it is far, far, less satisfying and useful.”

Since the popularity of reading books is decreasing, many students and instructors across Mercy College such as Ozyildirim understands that the importance to continue to learn and teach literature in college across the country. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many instructors have had to adjust to assigning online material to read instead of chapters from novels. In addition, many instructors have had been helping students on their assignments via email and Zoom instead of after class sessions. Over the past years, Professor Ozyildirim has learned to adjust to students preference of e-books. “I started noticing young people on the train reading from physical books, so I think the format may just be sticking around a little longer. And after months of tutoring and teaching online, I like to read from paper to get a rest from screen time. So maybe there are others who feel the same,” says Ozyildirim.

Despite the conflicting reports on whether reading is losing its popularity, one thing that is undisputable is that the future of reading is changing and authors will need to grow accustom to these new changes. Promoting novels by doing a signing at Barnes & Noble is not going to be as  necessary in the future when readers can purchase a copy off Amazon or illegally download it from a sketchy website. Up and coming writers will need to find a new way to promote their novels and if they fail to find a way to keep up with the times, not only will their works go out of fashion, they will go extinct.