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'Seismic convulsions... a bonanza in new prose'

3 January 2011

'Since 2000, the Anglo-American book business has been rocked by seismic convulsions. Google has digitised some 10 million titles, Barnes and Noble is for sale. Borders, bankrupt in the UK, clings on in the US. Here, Waterstones's parent company, HMV, wants to sell. Amazon's market share continues to soar. Asda, Tesco and the supermarket chains are said to be draining the life out of independent bookselling. In the US, it's claimed that ebooks are now outselling many hardbacks. By the end of 2010, 10.3 million Americans are expected to own e-readers, buying an estimated 100m ebooks (up from 3.7m e-readers and 30m ebook sales in 2009)...

The rearrangement of the book trade continues apace. Last week's New York Times Book Review contained no fewer than three separate items about the death of print. But paradoxically, the age of digitisation is both a golden age of ink (virtual and electronic as much as ink-and-paper) and a boom time for narrative, in many media, on countless "platforms", from blogs, audiobooks and trashy paperbacks to television soaps, Facebook crazes, and - yes - hardback memoirs. Not since the late 16th century has there been such a bonanza in new prose. The scale of the global audience and its extraordinary new means of self-expression get forgotten amid the legitimate anxieties over the consequences of "free content".

Robert McCrum in the Observer