I have a confession to make: shocking as it may seem, I, a knitwear-clad, Moleskine-toting English student, am in possession of a Kindle. This is not something to which I would usually admit, and certainly not within 100 feet of the English Faculty, primarily in order to avoid being informed of my contemptible role in the merciless deconstruction of the much-loved institution that is the British literary tradition.
News emerged this week of the merger deal between Penguin and Random House, who are uniting to create the imaginatively-named, ‘Penguin Random House’ in an attempt to safeguard against the rise of the eBook. This will result in a powerhouse of a company which will dominate the industry, controlling an anticipated 25% share in the global book market. The overwhelming reaction has been one of intense negativity- the story has inspired a flurry of apocalyptic articles bemoaning the demise of the ‘real’ book in the face of the evil that is the electronic age. It would seem that this is a case of the rich, multi-national giants (think Amazon) crushing individuality and freedom; it is yet another victory for nefarious corporate culture.
It’s an article that everyone loves to write, and understandably so. It’s not particularly indie-stroke-alternative to point out the positives that will most likely emerge from this deal, nor to suggest that this is hardly a new phenomenon given that the book market has been struggling for years. In all honesty, I felt like a failure of an English student as I was struck by a dull sense of apathy at the news. Perhaps I should be up in arms at this further blow to literary culture, railing against the oppressive capitalist forces that have precipitated this deal.
Yet even as I write this, I am filled with a sad sense of irony, for, at heart, I am that archetypal youth, filled with naïve aspirations and self-consciously pretentious idealism- and who can blame me?- I’m saving the world, one Missing Bean cappuccino at a time. So why am I not outraged at this news? Frankly, the persistently negative media focus on the ‘age of austerity’ has led to a numbing of the sense- this is just one more blow for ‘indies’, a visible indication of an age in which profits are prioritised over ideals.
Essentially, then, the news of this merger has simply engendered another series of discussions on that same debate which has been rumbling on ever since the emergence of the eBook, and that is precisely the point: I’m bored. It is possible both to own a Kindle and relish the tangible superiority of a quality Faber edition. Perhaps it is finally time to cease this stagnant debate, and recognise the value that technology has to offer the literary world, not as a replacement, but as a supplement. Whilst our society loves to indulge in nostalgic yearning for the ‘golden age’ of the physical book, the printed word is a relatively new institution, brought about by the embrace of technological progression. The times are changing and, as Penguin and Random House have acknowledged in this iconic move, we need to move with them for fear of being left behind.