Nick Earls on the fluctuating sales of ebooks

The Books and Arts program on Radio National recently explored reports that ebook sales are declining. Michael Cathcart interviewed Australian novelist Nick Earls, who says we shouldn’t discount ebooks yet.

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Earls has also written an article for The Conversation this month, titled ‘Has the print book trumped digital? Beware of glib conclusions’ in which he argues:

“From the practical perspective of writers wishing to connect their work with readers, it is prudent to see both paper and eBooks as significant for any book-publishing project in the present and near future, and to develop strategies to meet both of them. It is also prudent to look beyond both platforms to another, one that had long been regarded as a peripheral player: audiobooks.”

Unpacking the Statistics

I recently came across Nick Earls’ article on The Conversation, ‘Has the print book trumped digital? Beware of glib conclusions.’ This article raises some important points about the data behind the statistics on ebook and paper book sales. Traditional sources of these statistics often fail to take into account works published by smaller publishers, or those that are self-published. These are becoming increasingly popular. Whilst it is easy to interpret statistics to find that ebook reading has peaked, Earls reminds us to look beyond the numbers to consider trends such as the recent popularity of adult colouring books which sell almost exclusively in paper form.

This article shows that there is much more research to be done in the area of digital reading. This research needs to go beyond figures to unpack the trends and rationales beneath it.

Leisure reading on an e-book

Interesting article from ChanLin Lih-Juan  who compared university students’ use of e-book features for both academic and leisure reading, and found that e-book features were most valued for academic reading. See Lih-Juan, ChanLin (2013) “Reading strategy and the need of e‐book features”, The Electronic Library, Vol. 31 Issue: 3, pp.329-344, doi: 10.1108/EL-08-2011-0127.

Decline in e-book reading considered the end of a trend

Recent British Publishers Association’s figures show that consumer e-book sales have fallen by 17% while print book sales have risen by 8%. The Guardian attributes this to a changing trend, arguing that when the Kindle was first launched it was new and exciting, but now it looks ‘clunky’ and ‘unhip’. The problem with this argument  is that it risks overlooking some more substantial issues in the reading experience with e-books. The Australian teens we interviewed were far less concerned with how they appeared when reading on devices than they were with the actual quality of that experience. They often mentioned that for a range of reasons, reading in print was more fulfilling than reading on screen. Rarely were they concerned with the appearance of their e-book reader.

What do teens think about reading on digital devices?

The Teen Reading study asked a number of questions about young people’s reading preferences and experiences, in both “open fields” in our survey and in interviews. Teens were able to tell us in their own words about how they felt about  reading in general and about reading long form texts using digital platforms. An interim, single researcher coding of the question “How do you feel about reading on digital devices?” yielded the following breakdown:

  • Around 63% said that they preferred reading paper books, or that they disliked reading on digital devices
  • Around 12-13% leaned towards paper books but had some positive things to say about eReading on devices

“I like reading real books in my hand … but with eBooks on small devices, I can carry multiple books easily without worrying about bending pages in my bag…”

  • Around 12% preferred eBooks, mainly because they found it easier to search for them, or felt that it was easier to get hold of them free of charge

“I read a lot on devices because it is easier than having to buy every book you read”

  • Around 13% didn’t provide an answer or said that they really didn’t like reading at all.

 

 

It hurts my eyes (but only when reading)

iPads and other LCD tablets are widely used in educational settings. They are ‘do it all’ devices which can perform many functions. They can be cameras, music players, web browsers, as well as displaying text word processing or notetaking software, or in book apps such as Kindle, iBooks, Wattpad, BorrowBox, and so on.

Tablets are great for research, gameplay, recording and creating content, as well as being platforms for reading. Their responsive touch-screen interface is intuitive enough for even toddlers to use them for animated video and simple games. On the other hand, eReaders such as the Kindle, Sony eReader, and Kobo, are single function devices – they are meant simply to read on!

Adolescents participating in the Teen Reading survey were much more likely to have regular access to a tablet rather than an eReader. Many of the comments made by teens highlighted their iPad/Tablet’s attractiveness for playing games on, but also indicated that they used their tablet in both recreational and school settings.

But when asked about barriers to reading more on devices, those with access to a dedicated eReader were half as likely to report eyestrain than tablet users.

This is probably because eReaders use electronic ink, specifically designed to mimic the appearance of print on paper, and studies have shown that they are perceived by adult users to be as readable as print. They reflect ambient light rather than emitting light. On the other hand, iPads use backlighting as a screen technology. They look very much like computer and video screens, and emit light waves which, as with other kinds of screens, has been associated with visual fatigue.

Perhaps the added dynamism and different eye-tracking movements required by linear media and gameplay allows users to ignore that tiredness more readily than when reading!

Review: ‘Words Onscreen’ by Naomi Baron

9780199315765Naomi Baron’s book Words Onscreen is an exploration into the changing nature of reading. With the increasing use of eReaders many people are forgoing paper books. With this change, Baron asserts, comes a change in how we read, with reading onscreen linked to surface rather than contemplative reading. Words Onscreen is not only a fascinating read, as it details the history and science behind reading, but also an important read as it contemplates the future of reading and the various contexts it may exist in.