Friday’s announcement of this year’s Guardian and Observer Book Power 100 (no relation) told largely the same story as has been repeated over and over throughout the year: digital publishing is conclusively changing the way we consume books. Hearteningly, however, the list – compiled by the writers of those newspapers’ literary desks to chart who influences the reading habits of the British public – also makes clear that, at least thus far, the medium has not yet entirely become the message, with authors still by some distance the largest group to feature proportionally (hang in there, poets! Keep chasin’ that rainbow!).
Number one went to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, because of course it did. This year has seen the Kindle become for e-readers what the iPod was to mp3 players: certainly not the first of its kind, but absolutely the one to popularise it, to the point that the brand name becomes synonymous with the technology itself, and lets me legitimately describe the Kindle as the Hoover of the 21st century (another life goal achieved there). Of Bezos and Amazon, Guardian Review editor Lisa Allardice says ‘Amazon has given readers a limitless choice of books in a way that no bookseller or publisher has ever done before. It has dealt the high-street bookshop a near-fatal battering, completely changing not only the way we buy books, but also the way we read them, as the huge success of the Kindle shows’.
The expected names from publishers and booksellers both analogue and digital crop up throughout the list: Larry Page, CEO of Google, currently trying to digitise everything that isn’t tied down, at 3; Waterstones’ pugilistic aesthete James Daunt and Alexander Mamut at 4; owner of all the H’s Tim Hely Hutchinson, of Hachette UK, at 5; Apple’s Steve Jobs 2.0.1 Tim Cook at 10; yer W H Smiths, yer Tescos, yer Random Houses, yer Penguins, yer Canongates, et cetera, et cetera.
Perhaps the most immediately striking thing about the authors cited is their ubiquity across more than one medium. Sure, you have your literary vanguard (Ian McEwan – 19; Salman Rushdie – 45; Jonathan Franzen – 52; Philip Roth – 58), but the majority of this crowd have made their millions pursuing ventures beyond the written word: JK Rowling at 2 has – well, I won’t insult your intelligence, but on top of that, she’s listed for her own venture into e-publishing with the creation of Pottermore; Jamie Oliver at 8 has colonised your TV, your kitchen, your child’s school and your own cholestorol-choked heart; the ghost of Stieg Larsson at 18 has somehow managed to scare up four film adaptations (so far) out of three posthumous books; even cuddly old Stephen Fry at 59 is listed as ‘author, broadcaster, tweeter’.
Just being a good word putter-together seemingly isn’t good enough any more. Sure, nobody wants to be jack of all trades, master of none; but if this list teaches us anything, it’s that aspiring writers are still probably best chasing a post-degree apprenticeship, or some other, less strained metaphor (or a rainbow, poets).