Friday, October 28, 2011

They sell books in Supermarkets, don’t they?

A well known Israeli writer is selling his new book exclusively through an Israeli supermarket chain. There, nestled between the carrots and tomatoes, you can pick up his book and add it to your cart of groceries. How is he doing so far? He has already sold over 50,000 copies of his book - which is quite good in such a small country as Israel.  Why did he choose to sell his new book only in this one supermarket chain? He apparently read the writing on the wall. More and more bookstores are closing. Those which are still open have entered into a price war, and as a result - books are marked down by more than 70% and it is impossible for an author to make any real money from his writing. Is his decision then a protest, or is he simply giving in to the inevitable?

We live in an age where e-books are becoming more and more popular, and many people fear that they will replace the hardcover book altogether. Will only online bookstores survive and the library shelves now be filled with e-readers? And if there still is such a thing as the hardcover - will this be nestled somewhere in the supermarket? Attention shoppers. There is a special sale of fresh books in aisle 5. And what about the author? Will he be sitting in the dairy section signing books? Maybe they will leave it up to each author to decide where in the supermarket he wants to set up his table. For some, the pastry and desserts section would serve quite well. Others may prefer coffee and tea. And others may resign themselves to the vegetables. Will your place in the supermarket define you?

Or does it really matter? Surely the idea is the essence, and how it is housed is of secondary importance. Once upon a time, such things were literally written in stone. A rather tedious and slow operation. And then ink was invented and each book was painstakingly written out by hand. And if you wanted a copy of the book, that too had to be written out by hand. And then along came the printing press. There must have been a lot of opposition to that. Mass producing ideas through automation. How could anything good come out of automation? But, like most things, it didn’t take long for us to forget what came before and we soon began romanticizing the notion of the mass produced book. Or maybe the romanticizing only came when the book appeared to be in danger of extinction. Think of it - we are not even left with something we can hold in our hands! How crass. Well, actually you can hold a kindle in your hands, but what about the smell of leather and the rustling of the pages. (When was the last time we actually held a leather book in our hands - or anything with a hardcover?)

And then some people - those real fanatics - ask why we even need books. Why not let ideas  play out through film. Much more visual and so much  more can be included. Imagination? People want to be entertained, without exerting too much effort on their own part. The demands of imagination is maybe why fewer and fewer people read books these days - even before the first e-book or supermarket haven.

It is quite a mess, actually. At times I ask myself why I couldn’t have published my novel twenty years ago when the rules were much clearer. But then, maybe it is better this way. I actually wrote and published an e-book before reading one. Is there any real irony in this? Would I consider selling my book in a supermarket? But then, how could an e-book be sold in a supermarket? Maybe the back of cereal box could be transformed into an ink based e-reader screen. Different brands offering different books. This isn’t such a revolutionary idea. It wasn’t long ago that you got a free video cassette of a movie together with your six pack of beer. I mean - what do we want as a writer? To reach the widest and largest number of readers possible - no? I see some of you shaking your heads.

I have actually begun to write a screenplay for my book. Not so much because I want to quickly reach a wider audience, but rather because I realized that Gwyneth Paltrow will soon be too old to play the main female part (she was quite young when I first started writing the book). But I digress.

One day, probably not in the too distant future, young people will remark - upon hearing about bookstores - “What a quaint idea. A whole store just for selling books. But how could anyone make a living just out of selling books?”

Or by writing them.


  1. Reminds me of Isaac Asimov's 'The Fun They Had' in the ninth grade Communicating in English book! Is this what you meant??!!

  2. No, Margie, I didn't have this in mind when writing the blog entry but I looked up Asimov's article now and can see a number of similarities - and his article was written in 1951! His prediction of books disappearing and being replaced by a tool by which thousands of books could be read on one screen - has been partly realized. However, his prediction that this will replace a human teacher is still far from being realized and he made the mistake of believing that we would remain with the same awkward computer frameworks. Punch cards went out in the 1970's. Also missing is the prediction of hand held tools such as e-readers, smart phones, etc. But for something written in 1951, it was quite prophetic.

  3. I wonder how he had the prescience to do that......

  4. Since books that need serious graphics aren't so good for the kindle, perhaps we will science-books sold in the Pharm stores, novels in the supermarket and only museums will sell art books!