The question is the threshold. With print novels (until the age of cheap self-publishing), there was quality control. Publishers weren’t publishing everything that came through their offices. They were selective. Obviously, they got it wrong a time or two, but they tried to maintain a standard. The e-form opens the dam, which would almost be like every publisher publishing their slush piles.
I’m not trying to be snobbish. I think everybody has something valuable to say and by valuable, I don’t mean it has to be ennobling with some lofty artistic merit. For me, something entertaining is ennobling, because for the time it entertains, it makes you feel good/happier/more fulfilled/or whatever the case might be, so there’s value in that. And with that being the case, I think everything has a market, whether it’s niche or mass.
But the question for me, always, I guess is voice. What’s to differentiate something worth reading from what’s not? Because if you have this saturation, at what point does it become a flood from which you recoil because you know venturing out there is going to drown you?
Although there’s a ton of novels out there, there’s always been a marquis about them, because it’s traditionally been so hard to get published. The e-form takes that out of the equation. Blogging almost validates that since so many people blog. All you need is a computer.
So with the e-form opening the door for everybody to publish everything, everybody else effectively becomes a slush pile reader, kicking up (in a sense of recommending) some gem they’ve found to others, which creates that cascade effect that you’d hope you discover the life-buoys in the flood.
However, the book will never die. You cannot kill a good story you can lose yourself in. It’s just the form it takes. Reading on a computer isn’t conducive to reading length. But eventually the technology’s going to develop that makes e-readers comparable to hardcopy print, which might even suggest that length will go the other way, since printing costs won’t be a consideration. In time, e-readers will become as ubiquitous as mobile phones, which, you’d hope, might actually encourage reading.
Somehow, though, kids will probably just play games on them.
As an aside, I don’t think you can beat the tactile sensation of an actual book. Maybe nerdy, but the texture of a page under your fingertips, the feel of a cover (particularly when it’s embossed, or the grain of a hardcopy), the actual sensation that turning a page is like taking a step deeper into the story’s world.
I like the pages’ smell when they’re new, and the way they yellow – almost with self-importance – and grow musty as the book gets older, as well as the way a book’s wear shows the journey it’s taken with you over the years. It has its own story. I even have books which might have a dog-ear, or a coffee stain on a particular page, which always triggers a memory of when that page was read.
Not to mention a book’s durability. You can read it in the tub; throw it in your bag, flick it on your bedside drawers, or hurl it at a spider, without fear of it being damaged; and, in all likelihood, somebody won’t mug you for it when you’re riding a train home late at night.