Are Novels Dead?

Short Answer: No.

I feel like I want to pick all of these.

The market for indie ebooks continues to grow and grow, but the competition is like the Borg, assimilating everything in sight.

“A tsunami of money is flowing to audio and video. Netflix unveiled a plan to spend $8 billion on original content in one year, while Apple plans to shell out $1 billion.’” — Post Text Future, NYTimes, 2018

As someone who trafficks in text, I’m not about to declare Text Is Dead. But I’ve believed for some time that the best storytelling of our age has been in visual media and that will be increasingly true in the future.

Tosca Musk (Elon’s sister) is starting Passionflix, a Netflix-for-romance channel that expressly exists to convert romance novels to film. Text here is a proving ground for video, which makes sense, given the greater investment required. Likewise for audio, more investment means only novels proven “marketable” in some sense get converted to the higher-storytelling-content of audio. And with the rise of indie filmmaking, Original Programming, and literally everything on the internet, more diverse content is getting made. Which is a good thing.

But the essential difference between mediums remains.

Books allow you the most freedom of imagination, the longest immersion, and the richest of insight into characters’ minds. Audio is filtered through the narrator’s interpretation, adding a component of storytelling but also removing your individual interpretation. Video is the director’s vision, the actor’s nuance, the writer’s raw storytelling power. It’s a feast for the imagination, but a passive one — your heart soars with the soundtrack, but it’s almost impossible for the movie to have the depth of the book. (Note the rise of TV combining the best of both worlds — longer storytelling in visual form.)

Rare is the story (in any form) that lingers in your mind long after the telling — but novels are still elemental. The imagination is still their birthplace. Those that capture your mind and heart will often soar up into the more audible and visual formats, but at base, I believe the strongest connection between story-teller and story-receiver will continue to be on a silent page of text. Even movies are conceived as screenplays — words on a page.

Video and audio may be ascendant, but embedded in their DNA is the storytelling of words, first.