By Yashi Jain
Amazon Kindle, which turned ten this year, was launched with one clear aim: to enhance the availability of books. Ten years down the line and the plans have changed, as people continue to prefer physical books over the e-reader. Now, Kindle not only aims to digitalise traditional books but also to allow authors to self-publish their own books. With Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), all those budding writers who could not find a publisher will have the opportunity to publish their own books.
Amazon Kindle has come a long way since it was first launched on 19th November 2007. It continues to evolve, with various advances in technology aimed at improving the reading experience. However, studies show that people still prefer reading physical books over digital. Philip Jones, the editor of The Bookseller magazine, said in 2015, “Five years ago, the e-book was set fair to crush everything before it. The narrative has now reversed.”
Physical books are preferred to digital
Although the idea of carrying around thousands of books on one device excites many bibliophiles, it has not managed to replace the charm of physical books. One of the greatest pleasures of reading a book comes from physically turning the pages and the time this presents the reader to contemplate what has just been read. “Part of the positive pressure that digital has exerted on the industry is that publishers have rediscovered their love of the physical,” says James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones.
Physical books, which were to become a thing of the past, are being celebrated again as objects of beauty. Jennifer Cownie, who runs a website and Instagram account dedicated to matching decorative paper with books, says, “All these people are really thinking about how the books are—not just what’s in them, but what they’re like as objects.” Books, as aesthetic objects, add more value to a #bookgram than any device would. According to Steve Bohme, a UK research director at Nielsen, the number of people interested in tablets has reduced significantly since 2012 and those who still use them are treating their tablets more like auxiliary devices.
The reading experience is different
A Norwegian study from Stavanger University has looked at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience. They found that readers who used the Kindle were not able to recall the story of a book as accurately as people who read the physical book. The researchers suggest that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.” However, the study also found that the link between having a paper copy and the reader’s comprehension depends on the subject of the book.
Reading long-form fiction requires an immense attention span, a function that the digital space tends to disrupt. Neuroscience has demonstrated that different parts of our brain are used while reading from a book as opposed to reading from a screen. When reading from a screen, the brain shifts towards ‘non-linear reading’, which means that the reader tends to jump around the web page, skimming through the information rather than deeply reading a text. The same studies find that the less someone uses the deep reading part of the brain, the more this function is lost.
The eBook fight for market share
Kindle and other eBook platforms have had to adopt new strategies to attract readers, which Kindle is hoping to do with its self-publishing initiative. Having launched KDP back in 2008, the idea is only starting to pick pace now. In 2017, Amazon Kindle doubled the number of authors on its platform and even launched a contest to give writers an opportunity to see their books published. The amount of reading done on the Kindle app and device has greatly increased in the past year.
Sanjeev Jha, the Kindle Content Director in India, thinks that the new initiatives have given his company the potential for significant growth in the country. He said that there were going to be a billion literate people in India with half a billion smartphones. This, according to him, would lead to the evolution of new forms of online literature, or serialised novels.
Although most people still have a special place in their hearts for physical books, the new technology also has a charm of its own. The eBook industry may yet emerge as an alternate space for reading and publishing if it can turn the technology into a place where readers can express their own individuality. Until then, sit by the window, sip on a hot cup of coffee and flip through the pages of a book, while enjoying the warmth of the experience.
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