More Readers, More Reading

Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director of Digital Book World, asks in “Will More People Read Books Because of E-Books? Publishers Not So Optimistic,”

As more people buy e-readers and tablet computer sales continue to grow, will more people read books than did before? Will people who read books already read more of them?

Seems publishers are less optimistic about increased sales than they were a year ago. They believe the proliferation of e-readers and tablets means more people will read more books in the short run, but there won’t be a steady growth in the number of books being consumed.

One reason for this is, as David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society notes, that while these devices offer users access to millions of books and an easier way to get them and  have them available in this nifty, light, portable format, the devices also offer users lots of other things to do–play games, email, use Facebook, surf the web, and a whole host of other possibilities.

So people who don’t read a lot now won’t likely read more if they have such a device. But certainly those of us who already read lots and lots of books will read even more, right? Weinberger for one disagrees. He argues that instead that “[w]hat we’re reading frequently is shorter – and on the Web.”

I was prepared to refute Weinberger, but when I reflected on my own reading habits over the last year I could see he’s partially right. I read on my iPad everyday and much of what I read is on the web, and it’s fairly short: blog posts, newspaper and magazine articles, and the like. Since finding Zite, I know I’ve been reading even more on the web. But I’ve also been reading more books simply because they’re with me almost all the time. I read for long periods and in short bursts when I have a free moment or three. My iPad is light enough to carry in my purse, so now tend to read books faster. Also, because I mostly read on my iPad for entertainment and like to read books in series, I’m likely to finish one book and buy the next within moments.

What I find most interesting, however, is Weinberger’s assertion that as more people use e-readers, smart phones, and tablets to do their reading, shorter “bite-sized media” may eclipse longer prose. He writes

Reading the Web does not lead you along a logical path, it leads you along a path of interest. I’m not saying that the Web chases long-form out, but if you write long-form now and it goes unnoticed on the Web, then, very likely, it has failed. The Web is where knowledge is developed and where it lives.

I’m not sure I’m ready for this.

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4 Responses to More Readers, More Reading

  1. Doc says:

    I’m not ready for this at all. I read books, sometimes, in the same way I read on the internet: okay, I need this chapter or these pages, but I already know this stuff, or this part isn’t relevant to my current project, and so on. I keep lots of notes on the books I read so I can go back to them if some part I didn’t read later becomes of interest. And such notes can easily be kept on digital reading, if you have the right program.
    But I don’t want to lose opportunities to read a long work straight through if I want to. Lots of times stuff I read on the net doesn’t give me what I need to know, so I go to the library or the bookstore to fill in. If that opportunity is lost, its consequences may be similar to what happened in the fourth century, when Christians decided to burn “pagan” books. Look what that got us: 1200 years of disease, poverty, dirt, and shame.

  2. desertdem says:

    I don’t think we’ll see a time when books are being published, at least I hope not. And I fear what we’ll lose if people no longer care to or can read longer, more complex works. I can see that with my students now, and the corporate university continues to sell the students as consumers line. Give them what they want because the customer is always right.
    I refuse to buy into that. As long as I’m in the classroom, students are going to encounter complex texts.

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