Philippa Thomas Online

Life and leadership coaching

Our Virtual Bookclub


The headlines are gloomy.  The newspaper industry is contracting; print publishing is suffering at the hands of Amazon’s low prices and the e-book alternative.  There is a justified pessimism about the traditional mechanisms of delivery.

And it’s thrown up very big questions.  What about the appetite for news and the appetite for reading?  What’s the impact of our expectation, in the early 21st century,  that it’s not just comment but content that comes free?

The gloomy wisdom, again, is that serious Reithian news provision is suffering. It costs money to staff foreign bureaux, to cover town halls, to mount a lengthy investigation. It’s easier to offer news-lite, news you can use, news that shades into light entertainment. And as for reading, some of the most remarkable growth is in the softer options, like teen reads for adults,  and guilty pleasures, like Fifty Shades of Grey on your Kindle on the tube.

But what do we make of the silver lining? These comments are purely anecdotal, no science.  I’m just enjoying the new enthusiasm about reading that seems to have been sparked by our new ability to share.

All the world’s a virtual bookclub. And anyone can start a conversation.

A blogpost book review gets an echo – whether it’s picked up by algorithm or another blogger with a human face.

Hashtags on twitter can create a global bookclub that forms and disperses within hours, like a literary flashmob.

A recommendation brings rewards: if at the end of a Kindle read, I post an appreciative tweet, a fellow-reader’s find often bounces right back – “if you liked that, you’ll love this” – or “try this one, it’s much better!”

Here are just three of my  online discoveries; I’d like to know yours.

A hashtag – #Fridayreads. 

A website – Brainpickings. 

And a weekly email from The Browser. 

They’ve made my reading broader, more prolific, more fun. And so far, they’re all free. Though I’ve enjoyed The Browser’s eclectic offerings of long reads so much, I’ve just responded to their polite invitation to become a subscriber for more.

It’s as if we’re all wandering within an enormous virtual bookshop, not as strangers wrapped up inside our own heads, but neighbours immersed in a hum of civilised conversation.

If you love to read – and like to make connections – this is one way in which you’ll never be lonely again.

I’m not ignoring the hard part – the harnessing of that enthusiasm to a willingness to pay the price which keeps authors (and journalists) in business.  I’m trying to see the bigger picture.

Could the rise of apps like The Browser lead to the end of my local library, or make it more likely that my child will get the library habit?  Does a rising tide float all boats? Or am I failing to see what’s struggling to survive : not waving, but drowning?

Author: philippathomas

I've been a BBC newswoman for 30 years: reporting from around the world. Currently to be seen anchoring BBC World News TV. Main interests - politics, psychology, reading, trekking, and all things American. I began this personal blog as a 2011 Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard. You can also find me talking daily news on Twitter at @PhilippaBBC, coaching @positivecoachi3, and life & travel on Instagram at @philippanews. Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Our Virtual Bookclub

  1. Good blog.

    This is the golden age of journalism, in the sense that thanks to the internet and other forms of electronic media, that information has never been so free. Those who wish to censor are facing an impossible task – the news will get out no matter what they do. That’s the upside.

    On the downside, to repeat, news has never been so free; i.e. cheap. Great if you are an editor with budget concerns, but a nightmare if you are a freelance journalist who depends on a vibrant media scene for a living. It’s a double-edged sword and it means that journalists will have to work far harder, to make less money. Supply far exceeds demand, so quality and accuracy is everything. I mean, there is so much electronic graffiti out there.

    But is it worth it? I mean, if concerns about budgets have such a significant role in what is published/broadcast?

    Finally, yes, there is so much to read, but sorting the wheat from the chaff is even harder than before, IMHO. More choice, more effort, but more reward?

    Yes, I love to read, but electronic distractions are many. We need better ‘electronic farmers’ (editors) to sort the wheat from the you-know-what, or our intellectual health/diet will suffer.

    Btw, I think you are a fine, if seriously under-appreciated and under-used journalist.

  2. I entirely agree that the age of ‘free’ news is a double edged sword – one that’s proving especially painful for my colleagues in print journalism – but affects us all – and means that the concept of “journalism training” is undergoing a complete revolution. You put it very elegantly. I’m also mulling over the impact of journalists taking on new roles, “meta” roles, as news curators or “electronic farmers”. Thanks for reading & for your thoughtful comment.

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