Vanishing Words

misty lawnAt a party recently the subject of writing and editing came up. Not only were we enthusiastically told that with the advent of text messaging grammar was becoming redundant, we were also treated to the theory that since worldwide book sales are down then it wouldn’t be long before all the editors would be out of work. Presumably following the same logic, language teachers and journalists would also be out of work too.

Rather than go into a rant, let us dwell for a moment on the romantic notion that the word is inextricably linked to the printed book. It is a lovely idea that conjures up a scene of lemonade in summer and tea on the lawn while Emily and John sit under the old oak tree reading the classics.

The truth is this has never been true. Before the age of the email far more words were committed to paper by pen than have ever been published. The email and text have not challenged the book so much as the old habit of letter writing.

Then as someone who has spent at least half his career writing for digital publications the decline if Paper Age has brought more convenience than problems.
We heard similar predictions when movies first appeared and then again with TV. The truth is book sales grew exponentially during the 20th century as our media age fuelled an almost insatiable demand for the informative and creative word.

All that is happening is that the medium has changed and after the first rush of enthusiasm for self-publishing, it obvious that there is even more need for professional writers and editors. A Kindle does not stifle writing, it unchains it.

We live in an era when a free of printing costs books can be produced for diminishingly small audiences. The growth in specialist business publications is testament to this. In recent years we have worked on projects where 80 page books have been targeted at fewer than 200 people.

Although worldwide book sales have declined, in recent years UK sales have fallen by only a few percentage points. My wife has done her best in this regard, a week never going by when she hasn’t bought a book or six. If one looks at the accompanying growth of Kindle sales then it is surprising that book sales have not declined still further.
The truth is the demand for the published word has never been greater.

It is interesting that our friend at the party seems to suggest that standards in writing, and by extension editing, must fall if one is writing emails and digital books. There is no reason why this should be so and experience does not bear this out.

What is being challenged by increased digitalisation of every kind is the impact on the evolution of language. Also, it is interesting to note that more and more abbreviations have become acceptable in formal texts. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as a wag once said, ‘all change is change,’ perhaps editors must change too.

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