Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was no internet. If you were trapped somewhere far from any university centre, in a small town or a remote village, your only means of escaping from your current reality was television (with only a few channels filled with mostly irrelevant news, as well as the promotion of government policies and mass consumer products) and (if you were lucky) a library.
It is hard to emphasise to today's audience the importance of a library (and books in general) in the days before the internet. Although books were always of interest to only a small minority (regardless of your position on the globe, as determined by the random events of your birth), that small minority mattered because the geeks of the past (as well as the geeks of today) were able to bring new dreams into the mainstream.
Of course, not all of these dreams have come to fruition. But books were capable of creating stories that could capture people's minds, and some of the geeks of the past were capable of creating something new that mattered - once they were infected with a new dream.
For the past 6 years or so, I have had the opportunity to be involved in the education of teenagers. Anecdotally, I can attest to the declining ability of children to concentrate - even when the subject of that concentration is something they care about. The toys of today's surveillance economy (such as phones and computers) could theoretically be used to enchant that important small minority of geeks in a different way. These toys could play the role of books, these toys could be your private tutor and your mind's main adversary, allowing you to grow through a fruitful conflict with your ideas and prejudices.
But these toys are not doing it, and I see a lot of bright and talented kids in my school being diminished by the influence of (mostly) mobile phones. It may be that I am the one who sees this as a decline, but the ability to create a clear line towards some kind of goal in your mind should be important. And without the ability to create a narrative because of this constant distraction, without the ability to create a story, your story, most of my students begin to feel unfulfilled. Of course, feeling unhappy is a primary function of a teenager. But it is hard to imagine that this kind of unhappiness can lead to any meaningful change in their lives.
So what does this have to do with books and how we read them? The book market, as enforced by the monopolies of large online retailers, has changed significantly in the last 15 years. The cultural institutions of the past (such as governments, schools, academies etc ), all centred around the idea of the book, had a bookshop as a focal point for influencing the wider society. Oh yes, mass media such as radio and television were used with great success to manufacture consent, but the words written in newspapers and books was crucial. And if you need a proof that books can have a powerful influence on society, just think of the young Karl Marx in a London library, writing some not-so-thin philosophy and political economy books, and how his books, written in a way that was not at all easy to read or understand, became the focus of the dreams of many people and many generations.
So in the past it was important to control the written word, and that led to some strange institutions like samizdat in the former Soviet Union. But then came the internet, and for a brief moment of expansion that lasted maybe ten years or so, anything seemed possible. Then , the market consolidation took over.
The big booksellers and their online stores have already killed off most of the small bookshops of the past, but they have also influenced the way books are written and consumed. Algorithmically driven towards more sails, these systems with their "you might be interested" recommendation and ranking systems have effectively isolated book readers in their bubbles, and these bubbles are getting smaller by the day. I can easily imagine one day a book category like "Romance novels set in the 1950s newspaper office culture" or "Dystopian Science Fiction: Artificial Intelligence in perpetual war with transhuman entities after the collapse of society". As the sail is the only thing that drives online retailers now playing in the global market, the imperative to sell is eating into the mind control monopoly of the states. And I believe that most of the world's governments (with a few important exceptions) have already collapsed in the face of market forces.
Much like the online social networks of the 2010s, these book distribution systems lock book consumers into their own bubbles, all in the name of steering their users towards more sales. And since sales in, for example, Amazon's 'Unlimited' are also determined by the number of pages consumed, book authors have begun to write in book series (even if the story arc begins to collapse under its own weight) and to increase the number of pages per book exponentially (even if this diminishes the quality of their storytelling, and makes their otherwise interesting books unreadable).
In this age of amateurs, it is getting harder and harder for readers to find a book worth reading, which of course leads them to the next book, and the next, and the next, and I suppose this state of affairs is applauded somewhere where the money is counted.
UPDATE: After reading the blog entry of https://hughhowey.com/ai-and-the-copyright-page/, I posted a comment and I'll copy/pasted it here for reference:
I suspect that we will soon be facing an interregnum in the process of writing novels, as the use of artificial intelligence and large language models will make book writers even more productive - at least in terms of the number of words written per day. After that, in five, ten or twenty years' time, books (and similar narrative media such as complex video games) will be written largely automatically. Like a car that is painted and equipped according to the consumer's wishes, books may become 100% commodities.
Of course, this is only one of many possible futures, and the shape of that future will also be largely influenced by the quality of the stories that can be automatically produced, and therefore how well those stories can capture the human imagination. But, as any decent psychologist will tell you, consumption and fulfillment are two different things, and it is perhaps also possible that overconsumption will lead to saturation. The advent of long-form podcasts, which have effectively killed off the soundbite business model of TV networks, may also be an indication of future trends: people simply crave deeper understanding, and that can only be achieved with a time investment of many hours. So the readers of the future will have to master the filtering skills that will keep them away from the low-quality, auto-generated content.