ReKindle-ing the Magic of Print

Books are uniquely portable magic. 

-Stephan Hawking  

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There has been a constant change in the way a person chooses to pass their time. It can either be playing a sport, cycling, swimming or reading a book. Reading books has always been known to be the best source of knowledge, whether an autobiography, novel, a religious text or even a comic. Since ages, it has helped people keep their mind busy yet at the same time introspect on the new information that is given to them. The way one consumes this intelligence is changing with the introduction of more modern technological innovations. Initially, I’d observed that people read physical copies of books wherever they would go, but lately, there has been a transition. People have started reading on their phones through various apps or using the Kindle. The consumption of knowledge has been encouraged within the education systems as they are switching to digital copies of study material, to help the environment and for the easy access of notes.

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There was a time not so in the distant past where libraries and bookshops were thriving with books, CD’s of every genre but if you look around today, the number has decreased drastically. In this fast-moving life, individuals do not have the time to locate a bookstore or a library every time. Gone are the days when an individual would need to open a physical copy of an encyclopedia and search for the information through pages and pages of information that might not be relevant to your questions. At present, it is easier to type the question on Google, find a summary of a book, the answer to your questions and everything you need to sustain yourself in life. As long as you have a good internet connection and a doubt, you can find everything online. So why do we need actual physical copies of books, when we can find a digital copy?

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As we know, printed books, especially hardbound editions, can be very heavy, while most modern reader devices are lightweight; therefore another reason why people switch from physical copies of books is the idea of comfort and ease. It’s much easier to carry a reader containing an entire library of titles than to bring even a few physical books. If you finish reading one on your trip, it is much simpler (and cheaper!) to download a new eBook than to find a bookstore. This allows you to keep your entire library (and your textbooks!) in your pocket. This would allow you to read at any point when you have a few minutes free. It can be frustrating to come across a word that you don’t know while reading a print book. You’d either have to find a physical dictionary or pull up your phone or tablet to look it up; therefore, a tablet or reading device nowadays can clarify one’s query immediately without wasting their time.

When a consumer makes the switch to digital books from paperback, the creators of the device decided to keep the interaction between the consumer and digital version of the book constant. Therefore we see that the digital platforms are continually trying to connect the reader to the movement of the paper in a book, the susurrus of the pages, and the friction as they turn each page on the device. They also give the reader an option to make notes, highlight information without disfiguring the book. Even though a reader switches to a digital device, it is still very complicated to replicate the exact interaction and emotions that the individual has with a physical copy, but with constant innovation and technological progression, Amazon and different brands are starting to focus on this change.

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We observe that the categories most commonly sold, which are read on a digital platform, are related to romance, literary fiction, and mystery. In contrast, the sale of physical copies most often belong to categories of self-help, non-fiction, autobiography, motivational and one to remember for a long time. If we look at books like Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, we observe that the demand for physical copies is still higher than the digital ones. One of the reasons being that for years, JK Rowling refused to offer an eBook version of the Harry Potter books, claiming that doing so would lead to piracy, another is that giving an eBook would not provide the same experience as a physical copy; The case is similar to other books like Lord of the Rings and Game of thrones. Different publishing houses like Penguin Random House work with their social media teams to amplify news about their books and authors in an ever-changing digital landscape. They analyze what the audience is looking for through social media and with the help of experimentation and implementation publicize their paperback editions.

An article published by The Guardian mentioned that ‘Another reason why digital book sales declined last year is that cookery and humor are simply better in print – and books populated last year’s bestseller lists by the fitness guru Joe Wicks, Ladybird Books for Grown-up’s series and Enid Blyton parodies.’ (The Guardian, Zoe Wood). A reader would prefer to read these books in paperback format as they tend to last longer and not get lost in the vast library of digital data. Also, numerous times a reader tends to get a kick out of owning the entire series of the novel.

As children nowadays are exposed to visual media more often, one would expect that the sale of children or picture books would decrease. However, it is still stable as the books published are more diverse and cater to a macro audience. Studies show that boomers are less likely to adapt to new technology; therefore the older generation of readers would prefer to read a paperback version of a book as it gives them a sense of nostalgia and satisfaction, compared to the coming generations that have grown up with digitized versions of books, and videos.

Simran 1

We can observe, there has been a gradual decrease within the sale of printed books in the US, the sale of e-books has also fallen off a cliff. One of the leading factors is due to the rise of digital audiobooks catching on like wildfire. In the first three months of the year 2019, the format increased by 35% and it brought in a respectable 133 million dollars. Today there are more and more book adaptations to movies which shows that there is a higher audience that is switching from print to audiovisual media platform. Therefore, there is a slow transition from paperbacks to ebooks to audiobooks.

Unit sales of printed books in the United States from 2004 to 2019

Unit sales of printed books in the United States from 2004 to 2019

In conclusion, books are an essence that transfers information from one person to another. It helps understand different perspectives on the human mind and thought process. Physical copies of books can be preserved for a lifetime, but they are space-consuming. Digital prints are more compact, yet they have a chance to get lost in a vast space of the digital world. Audiobooks are the upcoming trend that caters to all audiences and consumers. With constant innovation and research today, it is highly impossible to predict future innovations in technological devices. There will always be a fluctuation in the sale of paperbacks, audiobooks, and ebooks. A consumer will choose the mode of reading a book, which will be more adaptable to their lifestyle. So, what’s in store for the forthcoming physical sale of books?  Only time will tell.

Simran Moraes

References

Wood, Z. (2020). Paperback fighter: sales of physical books now outperform digital titles. Retrieved 8 February 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/17/paperback-books-sales-outperform-digital-titles-amazon-ebooks

Kozlowski, M. (2020). The Tale of Rocketbook – The very first e-reader. Retrieved 13 February 2020, from https://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/the-tale-of-rocketbook-the-very-first-e-reader 

Association Of American Publishers Releases September 2019 Statshot Report. (2020). Retrieved 13 February 2020, from https://newsroom.publishers.org/association-of-american-publishers-releases-september-2019-statshot-report/

Further reading

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2018/3/3/16119322/kindle-paperwhite-books-reading-essay

Alhammad, R. and Ku, H. (2019). Graduate students’ perspectives on using e-books for academic learning. Educational Media International, 56(1), pp.75-91.

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