Esquire recently asked one of my publishing heroes, Dave Eggers, what he thinks of the future of reading. It's an important and recurring concern for us here, and after so reading many doomsday scenarios for the publishing industry (like this one), Mr. Eggers vision is thankfully optimistic.
The truth is that American publishers put out 411,000 individual titles last year, an all-time record, and netted $25 billion--hardly a sagging industry. And those kids who have abandoned books for electronic media? Since 2002, juvenile book sales have shown compound annual growth of 4.6 percent for hardcover books and 2.1 percent for paperbacks. Anecdotally, we know this. We know about Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, Eldest--these juggernauts of contemporary youth literature--but still we cluck with acknowledgment when some pundit tells us that books are being crushed by an all-powerful digital junta. It must be true, we think--just yesterday I saw some kid on the bus, and he wasn't reading a book!In his response to the question, Eggers illustrates youth interest in literature by sharing a story from 826 Valencia, a non-profit he founded in San Francisco "dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their writing skills, and to helping teachers get their students interested in the literary arts." What he modestly doesn't mention is that the organization has been so successful that centers have popped up in six other cities. There are now centers, under the 826 National umbrella, in New York, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Seattle, and Boston. If you live in one of those cities, check out their website and mission. You may have children who would benefit from their programs, may be interested in donating some of your time, or may just love their brilliantly absurd (and profitable) storefronts. Eggers was also one of 2008 TED Prize Winners. Each prize winner gets to share their "wish to change the world" at the conference. You can hear Dave Eggers' wish here.