The Nonfiction Stories In Our Kitchen
I get up when it is still dark, and am always glad when the delivery company has our copy of the New York Times out on the lawn waiting for me. This is not always true, so I peer out trying to see if I am looking at a discareded bat, the shadow of a tree, or the outline of the familiar blue plastic bag. The paper brings different narratives into the house — I am a Mets fan, full, these days, of gloom and dread. My older son is a Yankee fan, full, these days, of hope and expectation. Marina follows world affairs closely; one night, early in our relationship, she had the chance to interview Aung San Suu Kyi on the telephone. So she is carefully monitoring the protests in the country the junta calls Mynmar. We are a newspaper family, but we are atypical, papers are in trouble all across the country. They are losing circulation, so losing advertising dollars, so cutting back — in particular, by the way, on book reviews — so offering people less reason to read them.
The other night I had the good fortune of meeting the publisher of the Newark Star-Ledger. He explained that their readership is way up — if you count both print readers and those who come to their website. The problem is that they make much more money from print, where they are losing readers, and less from the web, where they are growing. I heard a report on NPR’s Marketplace the other day about something similar in TV: the networks have been losing viewers for a decade. Now, they are capturing eyeballs again by streaming shows over the net — but no one knows how to make that pay.
Clearly we are in a period of ferment and transition and whether it is newspapers, or TV, or the music business, we don’t know how to fit together free-on-the-web and paid-for-in-the-traditional-ways. Will this also be true of books? Are we going to all download books onto ever-better ereaders? As I pointed out earlier this week — there is a coolness factor for kids in the ereader. But I must admit I like holding newspapers and books in my hands. I could skip the whole drama with the Times delivery and just check the scores online — but I much prefer waiting and spreading all those stories out on our kitchen table.