The Times has an interesting internet-killed-old-media article, Internet book piracy will drive authors to stop writing. I’m almost old enough to remember when The Times was called The Daily Universal Register, so take it with a grain of salt when I say that these types of articles always strike me as intentionally hyperbolic. The death of TV, the death of music, the death of newspapers (and even Mark Cuban’s dadaist proclamation of the death of the internet) all make good copy, it’s true. But even now, ten years after print was declared dead for the first time within my earshot, it still accounts for almost a third of advertising revenue (look at the Jack Myers numbers I referenced yesterday.)
We like to talk about growth, positive or negative, as if the world were all straight lines. Maybe because so much of our business news is investment oriented–where future growth is the primary driver of changes in company value–while the real impact of business on our everyday life is pretty much everything except stock prices.
The best quote in the article, from Tracy Chevalier, author and chair of the Society of Authors (proving, btw, that US journalists are not the only ones too lazy to try to find unbiased sources):
It’s hitting hardest the writers who write books that you dip in and out of: poetry, cookbooks, travel guides, short stories – books where you don’t have to read the whole thing.
Although people still buy [books by] Nigella and Jamie Oliver and Delia it is because of their celebrity. Cookbook authors are really struggling. I do it myself – if I want a recipe I go online and get it for free.
For a while it will be great for readers because they will pay less and less but in the long run it’s going to ruin the information. People will stop writing. There’s a lot of ‘wait and see what the technology brings’ but the trouble is if you wait and see too long then it’s gone. That’s what happened to the music industry.
I look up recipes on the internet all the time. When I want to make something, I usually look up four or five and compare them. So, why do I still buy cookbooks?
Chevalier is confusing two issues: medium and packaging. While it may be true that we no longer care so much about which medium our information comes through, we still care deeply about the packaging. Information may want to be free, but nobody buys media for the information.
My favorite cookbook right now is David Rosengarten’s It’s All American Food. Rosengarten collects a ton of disparate recipes, each easily the best in its class: I trust this cookbook; when I don’t know which recipe to use, I use Rosengarten’s. I’m sure I could find recipes as good as Rosengarten’s on the internet. But how would I know when I did? I need someone I trust to help me choose, someone who has actually tried the many recipes and has taste similar to mine. I’ve found that person, and I bought his cookbook (and given it as a present to family members.)
It’s simply more efficient to pay $25 for a cookbook with hundreds of well-chosen recipes than to spend an hour online sorting through recipes every time I want to try something new.