My daughter is studying Voltaire’s Candide and hates it. That’s OK, she’s allowed her opinion. But there’s a line it which I think Bill Gates would especially enjoy: ‘Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable. For my part I read only to please myself and like only what suits my taste.’
It seems that Bill’s burgeoning new career as a book reviewer on GatesNotes is under fire from those who believe literary opinions should be the preserve of the so-called experts. Or fools. Bill, on the other hand, is keen to tell the world which books suit his taste.
His highly influential blog (part of his brilliant network of content marketing tools designed to maximise his philosophies) includes a list of some of the 50 or so books he’s enjoyed that year, including The Road To Character by New York Times columnist David Brooks (a bit long and disjointed, I thought, but nevertheless thought-provoking) and The Vital Question by Nick Lane (brilliant on the origins of life and why we are the way we are).
According to those who bow to the superior skills of the literary critics, Bill, by presuming that anyone cares what he reads, likes and thinks, is helping to destroy the books industry which recent figures suggest is worth £10 billion to the UK economy alone and almost£300 billion worldwide. .
This week, The Times newspaper printed a rather sneering assessment of Bill’s blog and how ‘struggling authors enjoy the Bill Gates bump’. Because when the world’s wealthiest man blogs about your book (or celebrity-blogs as the newspaper would have it) then the wretched lives of writers on the poverty line will be transformed overnight. Sales success is inevitable.
Some critics are outraged. The highly-respected DJ Taylor is quoted as saying: ‘What does Bill Gates know about books?’ He adds that ordinary people not steeped in literary criticism tarnish the industry: ‘There has been a loss of critical authority. You have to have some kind of language, some kind of protocols to have the conversation about the meaning of books.’
It’s a line that has been forcefully argued by Peter Stothard, the editor of the Times Literary Supplement, who believes that the rise of book bloggers is ‘to the detriment of literature’ because their tastes, knowledge and critical faculties cannot be trusted. Certainly can’t be as trusted as those precious types who sit in their ivory towers surrounded by mini-libraries of books that publishers have sent on to them, gratis. Presumably with companies like Amazon in mind (which accounts for 90 per cent of all book sales in the UK and whose book sales account for around 7 per cent of its $70bn annual revenue), Peter adds: ‘If the mass of unargued opinion chokes off literary critics…then literature will be the lesser for it.’
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com as seen here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/grantfeller/2016/01/06/bills-bump-how-a-billionaire-is-helping-to-save-the-publishing-industry-from-itself/
Contributor: Grant Feller