In the summer of 2010, I was joined by scores of Commentary readers on a weeklong cruise in Alaska. The cruise ship in question had 1,100 passengers. I saw hundreds of them reading for leisure and for pleasure, which is always a heartening sight. The great fear shared by all of us who dedicate our lives to writing, editing, and the promulgation of ideas is that the generations following ours have lost the love of reading books and long-form magazines. It is not the way they gather information; it is not the way they entertain themselves. We have been told that, for them, reading has been superseded by devices which supposedly induce the kinds of distractions that make it impossible to achieve the focus needed to pay attention to a book…or to Commentary.
Perhaps. But what stunned me on that cruise ship was how people over the age of 50 were reading. I spent a day counting and determined that two-thirds had Kindles (or the then-newfangled iPad). Only a third had paperbacks or hardcovers. And this was the summer of 2010, mind you, not this past summer. Clearly, these devices were not proving a hindrance to reading. They were, rather, providing readers with a new—in some ways, enhanced—means of reading.
I have been a devoted fan of the Kindle since its introduction in 2007, and I had an iPad on the ship with me, but I hadn’t realized the extent to which they had become an almost ubiquitous presence in the lives of the literate class in America. I returned from the trip determined to see what kind of use Commentary could make of them. Well, Commentary has been available on the Kindle now for seven months, and the results have been spectacular. With very limited promotion on our website and in our pages, Kindle subscriptions now account for about 7 percent of our overall numbers.
And in mid-September, we launched Commentary Magazine on the iPad. It features every word available in print, in similar type and with a similar look. But it also features carefully conceived and executed efforts to enhance the information, argument, and polemic we are providing—as well as historical and cultural background in the form of documents, photographs, and videos.
The “app”—meaning the program on the iPad that allows you to download each issue—is free. And so is the September issue. As with the Kindle, subsequent issues or year-long subscriptions for Commentary Magazine on the iPad will not be included with a print subscription. Our print subscribers will still receive complete access to the magazine’s contents online at commentarymagazine.com.
A stunning chart released by Amazon.com shows that the number of books and e-books sold is now roughly equal—which represents, for the e-book, a staggering climb in just a few years’ time. But it does not (yet) indicate anything like the end of the printed volume, because the chart also shows that during the same period, the number of actual books sold has continued to grow. So it may be that the creation of new ways to read is bringing about a reading renaissance of a kind.
Whether on the Kindle, the iPad, online, or in the palpable and bound and beautifully printed magazine we work so hard to produce, Commentary will remain what it has been for 66 years now—a clarion call for the United States, the Jewish people, the Jewish state, and the common civilization that has made us all “the people of the book,” whether we know it or not.