The Eye of the Storm: On the Future of Books and The Simpsons

These days, everyone loves to predict the future of publishing. Ever since Gutenberg started up that first press, the print book had no real rival. The technology was too perfect. Sure, radio, film, television, and the internet may have raised questions on how people chose to spend their leisure time, but none of these other media directly rivals to the good old reliable book. While it may not have been the only form of entertainment in town any longer, people continued to read. And why not? The print book (and you would never say “print books” back then. They were just books.) was everything it needed to be—an immersive experience that allowed your imagination to run wild for a few hours. No plugs or chords or monthly cable bills required. Growing up, print books seemed much like The Simpsons—despite how much you liked them, they’ve been around forever, and they probably will be around forever, so that was that. In a way, it was comforting. A constant in a world where nothing else is. But things change.

That’s right, last year Harry Shearer, the voice of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, and countless others, announced he was leaving The Simpsons.

Or wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.

First came the e-readers. Those darn digital books that had print lovers up in arms and publishers checking under their beds every night for a faint haunting glow. They were convinced it would be the death of the industry. At first, the fear may have actually been warranted. E-readers soared in popularity almost over night. Print book sales dropped. Publishing houses scrambled to adapt to the new technology. DRM became a thing. Then, just when we thought the world had changed forever, something happened.

Harry Shearer agreed to come back to The Simpsons, and even though I hadn’t watched a new episode in years, the world felt right again.

Oh, and e-book sales dropped, while print book sales saw a little rise. The world felt right again….for the second time. But this raised the question; just because something has been around forever, does that mean it should continue to be?

As much as I hate to say it, and I hope to be dead long before it happens, one day The Simpsons is going to end, and so are the production of print books, and this will be better for the everyone. As much as I love print books, they cannot last in the same capacity as they once did (You too, Homer). As the population grows, so does the need for resources, for land, for materials, etc.; all of which cause a huge strain on the planet. Water levels shift. Temperatures rise. The nature of comedy changes. Global warming is a serious issue and companies around the world are realizing this and are doing their part in going green. Humans cut down 15 billion trees a year, 32 million of which are used to make the books printed in the US alone. And we’re certainly not growing trees back in the same numbers as we are destroying them. The whole operation is just not sustainable. And the animation was so much better in the early seasons.

At the same time, I don’t think e-readers, in their current state, are the future either. The technology is just not fully there—or at least, not fully realized, the proof of which comes from the decrease in sales. What then, is the answer? In my mind, the future of reading will come in the form of a print book, but be an e-reader. Yes, an actual book with a blank cover and inside are hundreds of blank screen “pages” where text from a book of your choice can just simply appear. You think I’m crazy, but technology is getting there. Processors getting smaller and more powerful, screens becoming thinner and even bendable. Kobo even made a waterproof e-reader, and if that’s possible, than anything is. It’s not impossible to imagine that in a few years time, an e-reader with pages could be a possibility. With the push of sustainable business growing greater each day, the publishing industry will sooner or later have to adapt. The answer will come from a compromise that’s not quite there yet.

I’m not saying print books should or will go out of production, and neither should The Simpsons. There will always be people who love both, and will fight to have both. I know I will. All I’m saying is this; Simpsons, start making seasons of 10 great episodes, rather than 22 mediocre ones, and maybe play around with some continuity. C’mon guys, South Park made the switch years ago, and their 19th season, the most recent, was critically acclaimed. Oh yeah, and publishing companies shouldn’t see the decline of e-book sales as a win for print. Rather, they are in the eye of the storm. E-book sales will rise again, as younger generations seem to be reading more on their cell phones and tablets, and may continue to do so until there is a better alternative. Much like the older generations who grew up with print books are the ones championing for print books, the younger generations will most likely fight for e-books. Take this time to work on the tech, and come up with a suitable evolution to the print book that satisfies everyone—before the real storm hits. Yes, just like that episode of The Simpsons.