Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

1.06.2013

Early Indicators Say . . .

While it's yet much too early to conclude the long-term impact eBooks will have on print books, there are signs that they won't be the complete replacement that early prognosticators were predicting.  I've recently seen other articles that say something similar to:

The annual growth rate for e-book sales fell abruptly during 2012, to about 34%. That's still a healthy clip, but it is a sharp decline from the triple-digit growth rates of the preceding four years.

The initial e-book explosion is starting to look like an aberration. The technology's early adopters, a small but enthusiastic bunch, made the move to e-books quickly and in a concentrated period. Further converts will be harder to come by. A 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that just 16% of Americans have actually purchased an e-book and that a whopping 59% say they have "no interest" in buying one.

So, while the first big wave led to announcements that Amazon was selling more eBooks than print, Borders closing their doors, and forecasts that print was virtually dead, there seems to be an equilibrium emerging where people want both digital and print for different purposes.  As the article puts it, It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute. . . .

One of the trends that has emerged is that people enjoy consuming light, throwaway material in eBook format, but still need the physicality of paper pages for denser fare.

From the start, e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales. Digital best-seller lists are dominated in particular by genre novels, like thrillers and romances. Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.

These are, by design, the most disposable of books. We read them quickly and have no desire to hang onto them after we've turned the last page. We may even be a little embarrassed to be seen reading them, which makes anonymous digital versions all the more appealing. The "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon probably wouldn't have happened if e-books didn't exist.

Readers of weightier fare, including literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, have been less inclined to go digital. They seem to prefer the heft and durability, the tactile pleasures, of what we still call "real books"—the kind you can set on a shelf.

E-books, in other words, may turn out to be just another format—an even lighter-weight, more disposable paperback. That would fit with the discovery that once people start buying digital books, they don't necessarily stop buying printed ones. In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes. The two forms seem to serve different purposes.

The article doesn't consider why this may be, but I proposed a theory last spring in my post, Of eBooks, Memory, and the Power of Tactility, where I explored a couple of different sources claiming that memory very definitely has a spatial component, is tied to physical location, and the pages of a book work with memory in a way that screens and monitors don't.  It would make sense, then, that people enjoy eBooks that take them away, entertain and refresh their brains with a little escapist fun, but don't use them for reading they really want to think about and remember.  More time and studies will be needed to see if that ends up being the case, but I won't be at all surprised if it's so.

2 Comments:

At 1/06/2013 10:44 PM, Blogger CDL said...

This came up in a discussion about e-books and paper books the other day - you don't know where you are in an e-book. Watching your bookmark make it's way through a paper book is part of the process of reading a book. Thoughts of being aware you've just started, seeing you are half way through, knowing there are just a few pages left to tie it all up. Not to mention being able to flip ahead to see where the chapter ends so you know if you should keep reading a few more minutes to stop or just stop now because there is a way to go anyway. All part of the reading process. At least to me.

 
At 1/07/2013 6:43 AM, Blogger Degolar said...

And for me. Often I'll want to find a quote or a passage again and I can remember it was, for example, on the top right page of a spread about a third of the way through. Placement within the book helps me remember it.

I was just watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire slayer, from the first season in 1997 (I think), and the computer teacher asked Giles, the librarian, why he doesn't like computers. He said it's the smell--computers don't have one, and olfactory associations are the most powerful component of recall and memory. I thought that was an interesting connection, too.

 

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