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Monday, April 4, 2016

Is digital reading on the decline?

Digital Book World asks if technology is changing the way we read.  The commentator reflects that "while, for many, the way we’re reading books has undeniably changed, what’s even more interesting to me is the way in which books themselves are changing.

"A good example comes in the recent news from author James Patterson and his publisher, Hachette. From the New York Times:

To date, he has published 156 books that have sold more than 325 million copies worldwide. But Mr. Patterson is after an even bigger audience. He wants to sell books to people who have abandoned reading for television, video games, movies and social media. So how do you sell books to somebody who doesn’t normally read? Mr. Patterson’s plan: make them shorter, cheaper, more plot-driven and more widely available.

"In many ways, this move is potentially very good for business: it opens up reading as a possible option to new, untapped customers, it provides the possibility of a new revenue stream and, as the Times notes, it allows Patterson and Hachette to attempt 'to colonize retail chains that don’t normally sell books, like drugstores, grocery stores and other outlets.'"

I have been reflecting on this myself, as a recent trip seemed to demonstrate that people are using electronic reading devices with less enthusiasm than before.  Part of it could be the irritation of turning off iPads and Kindles when the plane is taking off or landing (though airlines are amending this rule), and, on the ground, the irritation of being interrupted by hints and tips from the device (on Kindle) and incoming emails (on iPad).

However, it did not seem to me that people have stopped reading.  Instead, they are returning to the printed page.  A good example was the bookstore featured above.  Taking up a large part of an upper floor in the department store of the Omori Station, Tokyo, this extensive bookstore was being very well patronised indeed.  I saw no books in languages other than Japanese, but each nonfiction section was labelled with a notice in English as well as Japanese and Chinese characters -- "business," "arts," "literature," and so forth -- and these were as crowded as the large fiction section. Coloring books and children's books were very popular, even more so than in New Zealand bookstores.

It reminded me of Taipei, where the people are wonderfully crazy about books.

On the ship Queen Elizabeth, I saw a few people reading on devices, but these were greatly outnumbered by those patronizing the rather wonderful library.

What does this mean for the future of reading?  It seems to me that this is a much harder question than it was when Kindles and other digital devices made their first impact on the world of the reading word.

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