It is a slow and lazy evening. As I write this, the corner of my desk is occupied by a pile of paper-back course books, some of which are obsolete and need to be replaced with an updated print version. My e-reader which has all the updated versions lies just next to the tower of books. It holds more books than those at the desk and takes up only a remote fraction of their space. But that does not belay me from reaching out to my stack of paper books to read some chapters that require no print revision.
A bunch of us do this without doubt. Though device screens offer hassle free reading experiences, books in their tangible form have not been totally wiped off our shelves. The feeling of crisp paper, being able to turn each page or insert a funky handmade bookmark, highlighting quotes with real markers and smelling every new leaf is awesome! Devices do compress huge volumes of texts and let them be stored, without us having to be irked about dusting them every week or make more racks to accommodate them. But reading on screens cannot replace traditional books for infinite reasons that most of us agree upon.
The start of 2010 changed the way the world read books. E-readers and devices with reading apps were on the rise. People began to embrace a new approach towards reading because of the perks it offered. Mainly reading on the go, looking up words from an inbuilt dictionary and availability of classics at a lower or negligible price.
Of course e-books and e-readers were introduced much earlier. But they were not so big back then due to people’s faith in traditional reading habits. New things are often hard to accept and the transitional phase is the slowest. Soon readers were able to identify notable benefits from intangible books. Thus, it has been an uphill ride since then.
According to Amazon, 2011 saw a high demand for e-books, even surpassing paper book sales. Within a span of five years, a gradual decline in revenue from e-books resulted in print books getting back on the graph, showing a dominant position. This data is not just about the numbers, but about readers’ perceptions.
Physical books provide a sense of personal involvement with reading as compared to reading on a device. An elemental reason for a rise in e-books’ demand was due to an availability of a larger number of titles, all at once. Ofcourse there was a wider choice and a great amount of savings from purchasing digital books. The delivery is instant and does not involve a delivery charge as opposed to physical books. So why then did offline books get back in trend?
The Association of American Publishers reports that the first quarter of the year 2018 shows a 6.3% increase in revenue from print books as compared to the same quarter of the previous year. There is an increased revenue of paper backs by 32.1% from audiobooks – the second most revenue generating book format. Also, there is a notable decline of 3.2% in e-book revenue with a slight growth of only 1.5% in the month of March.
Keeping complex comparisons aside, let’s hop to the real reasons why this data is in sync with readers’ opinions. Think of a situation where you are considering gifting a book to a friend who loves reading. An e-book would not be an obvious choice. A little handwritten note slipped in between newly printed pages or simply a greeting scribbled with love on the first page makes the gift especial. A few days ago I came across a social media post by photojournalist Mayank Austen Soofi (popularly known as the delhiwalla) which pinned an image of an Emily Dickinson book with a 1999 cinema hall ticket to ‘Shakespeare In Love’. This was enough for me to decide who won between a battle of online and offline books.
It is not just about the cheese. I have never seen or heard of a person who has taken pride in flaunting his or her e-book collection. But yes, I have seen people obsess over their personal libraries, I being one among them. A library irrespective of its size has the ability to make even a small place look aesthetically appealing.
With nothing impossible on our phone screens today, people feel the urge to detox from technology. And there is no better digital detox than pursuing a hobby, reading books included. Here is where tangible books win a point again.
There are a slew of titles available online. A choice overfeed of readable content makes buyers have little credence in its quality. A counter article is totally possible to overturn all this. But physical books cannot be uprooted in totality from a reader’s plexus, if at all there is one like that.