The Digital Age of Books

The thrill of a new book launch process of getting a new book has always been emotional affair for book lovers. To some, the adventure of anticipation is a reward by itself. To others, flipping the pages and smelling the fresh glue is an exhilarating experience affair. To me, the just feeling the hard cover back and lazily thumbing the pages to get an essence of book is a blissful activity. However, the current digital age threatens this romance at the altar of convenience. There is no longer a book or even a bookshelf. Turning the pages is not an option since it is just a tap on as the app is just an icon to tap on the hard computer screen. While the E-book train has long left the station, I have not jumped onto that bandwagon – at least, not yet. While I am still hopeful about the future of the physical book, it is interesting to hear the perspectives of other high-schoolers about this topic.

E-books making their way through the digital age. Source: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124592613

But before we do that, let us just answer the question of what is an E-book? Simply put, it is a book, presented digitally to the reader instead of being in the form of inkmarks printed on paper. The first e-book platform was launched in the year 2007 and by 2015 it made up 20% of all book sales. However, in order to make sure that print book sales didn’t fall, publishers would delay the digital publication for several weeks after the print publication was released. The good news, so far, seems to be that customers who prefer the physical book are not switching to something more convenient. However, if the digital version is made available at the same time as the physical book, it is difficult to say how customers would behave.

I decided to ask Emma Tynch, senior, and book lover what her opinion was when it came to E-books vs Physical books. Similar to my opinion, she said, “physical books are better than e-books. It’s easier to not lose their place in the book. If your nook(tablet) shuts down like mine has a lot, then you lose your place, but honestly with a physical book, you can just use a bookmark or fold the corners of the page.”

She continued on saying,”E-books are useful because they’re really easy to travel with them but the things that really annoys me is that every time I open my my E-book, mine it will start over again or jump to the end of the book. For me personally, I can read from physical books all the time. It’s not the same with E-books.”

It’s a different feeling actually hearing a book being read aloud rather than reading them in your head. Source https://bookriot.com/2017/12/13/how-to-download-audiobooks/

The audio book is the most recent weapon in the digital assault where somebody reads out the book digitally to the consumer. Not only is there no physical book, but with an audio book there is no book at all. It is just an audio file that needs to be downloaded or streamed to our earphones. In the year 2017,  audio revenues across the publishing industry (outside UK) rose by 28.8 % over the previous year. By the first quarter of 2018, digital audio revenue had increased by 32.1% versus the prior year. Harper Collins, a leading book publisher, reported that audio revenues represented 25% of its digit sales in the first quarter of 2018. Simon & Schuster, another book publisher, reported a 435 increase in digital audio sales during the same period.  And according to the Simon & Schuster CEO Caroline Reidy, she wants to increase the output of audio books even more.

This battle became personal when it finally reached the shores of my home. As he reached adolescence, I noticed a shift in the reading habits of my brother, who read a lot of physical books growing up. It was a surprising change of how he chose to read books. He developed a strong preference of listening to the books rather than reading them. I decided to ask my brother why he preferred audio books and what prompted the shift.

“I started to like audio books because I find that reading actual text hurts my eyes after a while. However, beyond the initial comfort for my eyes, audiobooks had another appeal: Production. Audiobooks now, especially on platforms like audible, have great production value–in terms of the quality of audio, the narrator(many times the narrator brings characters to life with their voices), and the pacing and set up of the said narrators. Several times, the voice of the narrator becomes the voice of the characters in the books. Normally, this would mean that the imagination that is conjured up while reading one has when reading is destroyed. However, it is not. Instead, it the audio book  gives a substrate for the imagination to build off of, allowing a more rooted and realistic picture of the scenes in the books and in the minds.”

One day, while in a book shop my brother suggested reading a particular book. I purchased it right away – however, it has been two years and I am yet to complete the book. When I asked my brother how he managed to finish reading that book, he told me he didn’t read it, rather he listened to it. That made me wonder if perhaps,  some books work better on audio platforms or is it just me who is being stubborn. But I do see his point about the book becoming more vivid when somebody reads it out to you. It is similar to how parents would read bedtime stories to their children when they were young; the world becomes more alive when you’re able to feel everything the book is saying. So, perhaps digital books are not a leap into the cold unromantic future, maybe they represent a reach-back to our warm animated childhood memories.

Does this mean digital platforms represent the future of books? That’s simply an outcome of personal preferences. As for me, I don’t think I’ll ever shift mediums, but I won’t necessarily shun the digital mediums either.

Author: Aditi Balasubramanian

Aditi Balasubramanian is a senior at SAS and one of the Chief Copy Editors for The Eye. This is her fourth year at SAS but she has lived in Singapore her whole life. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading and watching "Gilmore Girls"--which may have fuelled her interest in being a journalist. She loves anything with chocolate in it and Indian food. She can be contacted at balasubram47401@sas.edu.sg.

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