Prog and the Printed Word – Part 2

Jean Roby Commentary July 2015

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2015 All Rights Reserved


In Part 1 of this article (see June Commentary), I did my best to provide the reader with an overview of books about Prog, classifying them into four categories related to their various contents and listing relevant titles for each category. Learning that there are so many different books about the genre on the market may have been surprising for some, and reassuring for others. Still, some questions remain : To what extent fans of all age groups are likely to read these books ? Can we claim that the number and variety of these books meet the expectations of Prog fans ?


First, by whatever angle we look at it, the number of books available surely indicates that there’s still enough readership out there to warrant publishers to risk money on authors writing about Prog. But some may ask if that readership will endure for generations to come, or if it will decline gradually as white-haired and balding fans depart from us. Even though the Internet as a major source of information readily accessible from various platforms is indisputable, not only do books still provide more than mere information, but they do so in formats that have been tried and tested for centuries, giving them maximum versatility. The steady decrease in the number of bookstores gives ample cause for concern, but then online purchases show a steady increase… and, from what I’ve experienced so far, local bookstores seldom have books about Prog in stock.


Also, we might question a persistent stereotype, according to which younger generations read less and less (my own father used to repeat the same thing way back when). Again, the young may refer primarily to the Internet, but there are also more of them going to and graduating from colleges and universities, so books are not the odd thing to have in the average household as it was decades ago. Also, the young account for a substantial part of book fair visitors, bookstore shoppers and public library users. There’s also the fact that when someone really likes a given subject, he or she will usually reach out to know more, and more comprehensively, about what enthuses them. And that applies fully to Prog lovers.


What could turn out to be a problem is that some surveys show that, although book sales are steady or on the increase generally speaking, the number of readers is stable or dwindling in some regions, which can only mean that confirmed readers read more and more. If this trend should become more widespread, then any field of literature could be plagued by it, but especially those that aren’t mainstream – such as books about Prog –, if only because marketing and promoting budgets are most likely to shift towards the surest products for the larger public.


As there are more than 2,200,000 new titles published each year worldwide– which is more than ever before in the history of mankind –, the short lists I provided in Part 1 of this article and the fact that, as of this writing, more books about Prog will be released this year (Future Days : Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany, D. Stubbs ; Red Floyd, M. Mari ; Black Sabbath : Symptom of the Universe, M. Wall and Mind Over Matter : The Images of Pink Floyd, S. Thorgerson, being the most promising ones so far), all indicate that books about Prog still have a future, and one that should last in the long term. On the other hand, the paper-and-cardboard books are likely to loose some ground, as more and more Kindle editions will see the light (pun intended) ; it’s already the case, e.g. the 2015 edition of T. Sportouche’s Storia di un minuto : a guide to the Italian progressive rock of the 70's is available only in electronic format, as was S. O. Puracchio’s Progressive Rock : A Handbook, published in 2014. Others, such as A. Parentin’s Rock Progressivo Italiano : An Introduction to Italian Progressive Rock (2011), are published in both formats.


That said, I wouldn’t surmise that books as physical objects are soon to become relics from a by-gone past, if only because the objects themselves still exert a powerful attraction over most readers of all ages, despite being more expensive than their electronic counterparts. Among other reasons, such an attraction is supported by the fact that recycling paper has reached an undeniable industrial cruising speed and that physical books are self-contained – they don’t need servicing, updates and power supplies –, and thus are more practical, more versatile.


All things considered, I would state unequivocally that books about Prog are here to stay and that future generations will most likely be enjoying their own as well as ours in their own time… as long as the musical and lyrical creative process that gave birth to Progressive Rock will keep on nurturing musicians the world over. But that can only work if we, the public (actual fans and future fans), are there to support bands by buying their CDs, attending concerts and events, checking on them via websites and magazines… and reading books about the on-going venture of the genre. While reading books about Prog might not rank among the top priorities of every fan, the number of those willing to pick up such books is on the increase. If listening to the music is the vital thing to do, reading about it isn’t a mere luxury. It furthers depth of knowledge and understanding of Prog and, more often than not, it increases the pleasure when listening to the music.


There’s one last thing I’d like to stress : publishing books about Prog is not only a question of money – I have yet to see a book about Prog on the New York Times best-sellers list ! –, because if it was, there would be a lot less on the market. In fact, everything about Prog stems first from passion for the genre. So, go ahead, be passionate yourself and, the next time you feel you might be missing something about Prog, why not order a book about it ? Better still, walk or drive down to your local bookstore and see if they have any. If not, then order some from them : you’ll be contributing to the economy of your community… and, who knows, you might just find a fellow Prog fan behind the counter !