As technology advances, the world becomes ever more dependent on the digital revolutions that make our lives easier and more efficient. With letters, card games and theatre having turned into emails, video games and television, we are obsessed with staring at screens. You’re even reading this blog on a screen - unless you’ve printed it out to read, which would be very impressive.
But while technology has taken over many aspects of our lives, there is still one medium that has undoubtedly stayed true to its roots, largely unchanged for hundreds of years: books.
With the advent of computers in the 80s, literary works were naturally transferred to digital copies, making them easier to access and more safely stored. In 1998, NuroMedia released the first handheld ebook reader, the Rocket, but it wasn’t until the 21st century that the craze really started to kick off.
In 2000, Microsoft teamed up with Amazon to sell ebooks, which could be downloaded onto PC or electronic readers. In 2001, publishers started launching ebook imprints and WH Smith created special ebook sections in their stores, with other shops following suit. In 2007, Amazon launched the Kindle and opened the Kindle store, with over 88,000 ebooks. Book shops then started releasing their own readers, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Kobo’s Kobo eReader.
For a while, it seemed like ebooks were the new thing and Kindles were everywhere, but the fad soon wore off, and it’s not looking likely that it will make a comeback any time soon. Reports last year showed that ebook sales had fallen by 20% since 2014, while sales of physical books had gone up by 17%.
But with other aspects of life being dominated by technology, why do we still love to buy physical copies of books?
A break from technology
Reading a book is often seen as a relaxing experience, allowing us to switch off from the world and immerse ourselves in a world of fiction or educate ourselves with facts. It’s a chance to have a break from the constant staring at screens that often consumes most of our day. However, with electronic readers, we are still staring at a screen and scrolling through pages, so it does not provide our brains and eyes with the rest that we need.
When they were first launched, ebooks were pretty cheap, but over time the price has gone up, meaning that buying an ebook can be just as expensive, if not more so, than buying a physical copy.
We can also buy second-hand books, which can cost less than £1, so it’s no surprise that we opt for the cheaper alternative.
Creatures of habit
From 1 or 2 years of age, kids are presented with books to help them learn letters and words. Text-books are also commonly used in schools and English classes will often require students to read a classic novel.
After years of exposure, we build up an affinity with books, so naturally we continue this in adult life as it feels familiar and nostalgic.
It makes sense
From the visual impact of the cover on the shelf to the woody smell of a new book and the crinkle of the page as it turns, the physical book plays with our senses and subconsciously forms part of our enjoyment of the reading process in a way that an electronic reader never could.
Reading a book is not just about reading a story, there are things that make it into an experience. It starts with going to the shops or library and immersing yourself in the sea of paper, browsing the latest releases or hunting for a recommendation.
In between reading, the book serves as a reminder, tempting you to continue reading and giving you a sense of excitement as the bookmark gradually makes its way towards the back of the book. These things are lost when we buy a book at the click of a button and turn the screen off mid-chapter.
It’s a social thing
While reading a book is an individual task, it creates opportunities for social interactions. If a person sees someone reading a book on the train, they might be inclined to ask if it’s any good or discuss the book if it’s one they’ve read. If the book is on an electronic reader, it’s impossible to tell what they’re reading from a glance.
Once people finish books, they often pass them on to other people, giving them a chance to enjoy the book without having to buy it themselves. And of course, a bookshelf full of books not only makes you appear literate and well read, but also serves as a conversation starter for anyone also interested in books.
A different view
While electronic readers may not be as popular anymore, more and more people are using their phones to read, whether it be a ebooks or online articles. And there are clear benefits to storing books digitally.
Rather than having a bookcase full of cumbersome books of all different sizes, it is much easier to have just one device that can hold hundreds of books. It also mean fewer trees are cut down and offers extra features, like being able to search the book or increase the font size.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how you consume your literature. Whether your book is a page turner or a screen swiper, the important thing is that you are reading and enjoying what you read.