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“It is good news that the market is transitioning and making money from [digital publishing], but it is moving to a trickier situation where there are fewer booksellers.”
BBC 18.09.2012

The demise of the print side of the publishing industry is something that newspapers and other media have been reporting on since around 2010. Ever since the introduction of the first e-readers, Amazon’s Kindle chief among them, people have speculated about the future of books and the printing press. ‘Will people read more or less than before?’ ‘Will they still buy books?’ ‘How will authors make money?’ And so on.

Digital sales outstripped their print equivalent in 2010 in the US. That was just comparing with hardback sales, and according to works sold on Amazon’s website. But in 2012 they reported that sales were higher than both hardback and paperback combined.

So, what could this mean for those involved in the publishing industry and those of us who consume its products, the readers. Here are some guesses:

What does it mean for publishers and booksellers?

Positives

  • Savings on resources (paper, ink, other material involved in publishing books, newspapers, magazines, etc.)
  • Ease of placing work in different markets (in theory, if it’s on the internet, it can be bought anywhere)
  • New features afforded by digital media (incorporating video, weblinks, social media content, etc.)

Negatives

  • Difficulty in publishing in different formats (epub, iBook, pdf, etc.)
  • Diversity of devices to publish for (tablets, mobiles, ereaders)
  • Digital theft and plagiarism
  • Fewer hard copy sales make it difficult to justify keeping bookshops open

What does it mean for readers?

Positives

  • Greater access to material available digitally, much of it free to access
  • Saving space (thousands of books can sit on one ereading device, itself slimmer than most novels)
  • Saving money (a lot of ebooks are priced competitively)

Negatives

  • More screen time, possibly leading to eye strain and related problems
  • Loss of the romanticism associated with reading paper books (the smell of the pages, licking your thumb to turn pages, etc.)

There are obviously more positives and negatives from both points of view. There are also different points of view to consider as well, the writer and the teacher among them. If you’d like to add your own, please comment below.

This naturally leads me to consider how teachers can leverage advances in screen reading and ebook software and hardware. What are the implications for the kind of reading skills we try to teach or otherwise help students develop? How do we help students sift their way through all the reading material that is available to them? These and other questions are things I’d like to investigate more, and I’d love to know your thoughts about how this technology is possibly changing reading. If you’d like to share what you think, please leave a comment below.