Home > Musings > NYT edtior: Let’s ban books

NYT edtior: Let’s ban books

An editor at the New York Times says he wants to ban books, and surprisingly he’s not just talking about conservative political books. In an article called “Let’s Ban Books, or at Least Stop Writing Them,” executive editor Bill Keller talks about the “death of books.” Someone stop the presses! According to the New York Times, print books aren’t selling as well as they used to! No wonder they call themselves the “newspaper of record.”

Since I spent a year as a political writer, I have a lot of experience rebutting New York Times articles. Correcting factual errors, exposing bias and revealing their bad reporting became sort of a hobby of mine. Here I am to do it again, but this time, it has nothing to do with politics.

In the article, Keller laments that so many of his journalists want to take time off to write a book. That causes logistical problems at the paper, but mostly, he doesn’t understand why they would do it. “Yes, he can write a book. But why would he want to? Why, in fact, would anyone want to?”

He comes up with a couple of theories, mostly that saying you published a book is like having a “credential, a trophy, a pathway to ‘Charlie Rose’ and ‘Morning Joe,’ to conferences and panels that Build Your Brand, to speaking fees and writing assignments.”

To Keller, the only real use of writing a book anymore is having a credential to get better jobs. So it doesn’t matter that no one buys them anymore, because it’s just a status symbol. After all, as he points out, book sales “peaked in 2005, and have been in steady decline since.”

So the case is closed, right? Books are dead. Well, unless sales have declined to $0, the reports of their death are greatly exaggerated. Haven’t you heard? Music is dead as well. After all, have you seen the CD sales? No one listens to music anymore.

That idea, of course, is ludicrous. Aside from a few holdouts (including me), most people don’t buy CD’s anymore, but they still listen to music. They download it now. The so-called death of CD’s doesn’t mean the end of music any more than the death of cassettes, records or 8-track did. Sales of print books are down and will continue to decline as society becomes more digital, but as Keller admits, e-books on the Nook and Kindle are doing quite well.

As technology evolves, the medium for reading stories will continue to change, but the need for stories will not. Shakespeare printed his works by hand on folio and quarto manuscripts, rather than binding them in paperbacks. Before then, written works were found on scrolls, stone tablets and caves. Does it really matter to the author if his work is found in hardback?

I still prefer to read print books rather than e-books and hope they will be circulated for a long time, but that’s not the point of Keller’s article or the countless other drivel from similar naysayers. He isn’t talking about the death of print books, he’s talking about the death of the written story. Why bother writing when no one will read it?

I suppose Mr. Keller has never heard of Harry Potter or Twilight. Last I heard, they sold pretty well. What’s more, they sell very well with children, teens and college students. In other words, the next generation, who supposedly has no interest in something as low-tech as a book, have been buying books about wizards and vampires like crazy. That means a future full of dedicated readers. Or maybe Keller thinks they’ll say “well, there are no more Harry Potter books. I guess I don’t have to read anymore.”

Perhaps Mr. Keller has books confused with the newspaper industry. Papers are going out of business because you can access the same information for free online. The Times in particular is hurting because with more information available to the public, people are less likely to swallow their biased reporting and regurgitation of political talking points in the guise of journalism. Print newspapers, and especially message-controlling entities like the Times, may be dying, but books are just fine and will be around long after Keller’s office is turned into a parking lot.   

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Categories: Musings Tags: , ,
  1. July 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I also recall from that article that Keller had tried and failed to write and publish two books. He even had received an advance for one, which he is now having to pay back. Can we say bitter much? I think a lot of his disdain for books, print or electronic, stems from this; there’s a jealousy that others are doing something that he wanted to do and wasn’t able to do.

    Print books are on a decline, which is said because to me there is nothing quite like a book in hand, but the written story is far from dead. You nailed it in that the format/medium is evolving again. I think it’s fantastic that there are stories out there that are drawing the next generation into reading. Keller is far from being correct. He’s jealous and confused. And sad. Because any person who says that the written story is dead regardless of its format is a sad person.

    • July 14, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      You know, the bitterness didn’t even occur to me but you could be right about that. He was a failed attempted author, so he hates the industry now.

      I love having a book in hand. I think we will always be able to buy them, though it may become a niche item, similar to how you can still buy vinyl records but they’re not common anymore.

      • July 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm

        I’m okay with niche items. The only downside is how many boxes I need when I move.

        I think his failed attempts are a huge reason. Here are all these people who are lower on the work totem pole going off and writing books–I will admit that some he mentioned sounded rather odd–but they’re writing and he’s not. And not only is he not, his two attempts bottomed out. He’s totally jealous. You can hear it in his tone and diction.

  2. storymanias
    July 14, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Right there with you!
    There’s still many that can’t handle change.
    Well, they’ll just be left behind… some day…

    • July 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      I’ll admit that I’m in the not liking change camp. I like my print books, CD’s and DVD’s. I still use maps to find things instead of GPS… But I don’t buy any of the apocalyptic talk that people are going to stop reading.

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