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Has Old Fashioned Book – Reading Taken A Hit In The Digital Era?

Grandparents and parents, in another era, perhaps during the late ‘80s and the ‘90s and prior to that, were often heard telling children in the family fold, how books are a man’s best friend. When vacations used to finally come about, during hot summery afternoons, with venturing out under the blistering sun seemingly an onerous task , all of us have memories, don’t we, of sitting inside rooms in familiar surroundings, with siblings or own our own, reading fictional stuff, romantic capers, suspense thrillers which used to invariably lead up to conjuring thoughts of replacing the protagonists with ourselves, of that Sidney Sheldon, Mills and Boons hardback, stories with the kind of stuff romantic or fictional dreams are made of. Or, at times, surfing through innocuous looking news or film magazines, often filled with reports of romantic link – ups or latest movie ventures would become favourite pastime in the absence of other sources of recreation.

Amongst us, there was no dearth of those who used to pride themselves on the size of their stockpile. With their shelves or study tables, with systematically lined up books in categories of fiction , non – fiction, autobiographies, thriller, suspense, magazines which were separately placed for easy scanning. We all have had friends whom we have boasted to about our repertoire of books, isn’t it? Borrowing books that we wanted to read, lending those that we no longer had hesitation in sharing after having read them ourselves, being involved in joint reading sessions or addas has certainly been a fond part of our growing up years.

But as the 21st century progresses, and as the internet continues to hold sway over our lives in a prominent way, and the likelihood of the digital medium increasing its footprint becomes more likely, has the old world charm of reading the book with all its earthy contraptions begun to dissipate? Is an era beginning to end as a chunk of people indulge in online reading, decide to include e – books, kindle into their reading paraphernalia? Clearly, these are no easy questions but are still ones that need due consideration.

The digital medium, with all the technology and the outreach at its disposal, has no doubt revolutionized new – age reading. With an internet – enabled mobile phone, a laptop or an I pad, you can access information, news, videos, content gone viral on – the – go. Entire novels can now be downloaded on kindle as e – books and that too, within a matter of seconds or minutes and read on the go. You do not have to wait now to be in front of TV or for the newspaper to arrive next day to access news. The medium is instantaneous. Just like your coffee. Delivered where you want. It has also in a certain way democratized the sharing of information as anyone and everyone with an idea or a thought , a blog or a book within, can put it out there for the world to see, share, review or opine about. Such freedom and vast access to information was clearly not available in the pre – digital era.

The question is , Is the online digital medium killing the conventional way of book reading? Probably not. Changing Tomorrow went around to a few places which provide an atmosphere conducive for indulgent, leisurely book reading. And what we found was that the old – fashioned chair ( or beanbag ) book – reading has clearly not died down. Its charm continues and its old loyalists continue to be enamoured by the earthy feel of a hard paperback.

As per Rajeshwar Singh, who visits bookstore, once or twice a month, he does not like net. As per him, there is no replacing books. He says, trend ( of book reading ) is there, it should be promoted. The last book he read and liked was the book by Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s grandson which comprised of some elegant prose.

Several book stores, these days, in the face of online competition, are not shying away with giving discounts, of providing readers and potential customers, a conducive ambience to browse through the large variety of books. Readers can make themselves comfortable, sit and read the books at the bookstores itself.

Places such as Crossword Book store in Jaipur provides a great atmosphere, co – operative staff and a large variety of books, memorabilia and other items one can choose from. The Oxford book store in New Delhi provides for an excellent avenue for book reading where one can stay for long hours while browsing through books, choosing from the displayed items. And, if you want to take a break from all the book reading / browsing, you can perhaps move to the café joint and take a break with a coffee and a chocolate cake.

Several of the avid readers that we spoke to mentioned that while digital medium may have affected the conventional way of book reading in some way, they also felt that book reading can never go out of fashion.

Devyani, a housewife and an author in the making herself, believes that reading habits have gone down because there is a lot more to do, like, WhatsApp, chatting , laptop, so many things to do. She also maintained that the charm of hardcopy has taken a hit as online shopping in the form of kindle, Amazon has hit the bookstores hard.

But, as per some, the numbers seem to have not been affected substantially. As per Girdhar Goyal, Director, Crossword Franchisee Store Jaipur, there is a 5 to 10 % conversion, which is not affecting in a big way. Those who wanted to read the old way are doing so. He added that reading culture is increasing but needs to be more when compared with other countries.

Goyal, provided information that autobiographies sell more. Apart from children books, fiction. 50 % customers are families, who like to buy books collectively.

There is large potential customer base of people who want to indulge in a good read. However, one dampener for many has been the lack of reading spaces, book stores,libraries, cafés, joints, where one can go and read at relative peace. The city does have a few café’s or joints though that one can visit carrying a book or pick one up from the collection available and read without getting disturbed. Curious Like Coffee Roasters is one such place. Its owner, Neeraj Sheoran, mentioned, we do not have a large collection, people come, browse. It’s a personal collection. ( Have kept ) quite a bit of classic literature. Some modern philosophy. You may find some poetry by Gulzar.

There are those who feel that more avenues that are scattered across, need to be made available, so that people do not have to travel large distances for visiting a book store. Gamini, an Engineering graduate, who will be moving to another city for her job, feels, digital media is easily available, free. That’s the primary reason (people choose digital medium ). On being asked about the benefits of hard copy over online medium, she said, I am more wired to read books. Hard copy, that’s more comfortable for me. Less strain on the eyes. The last book she read was, The Millenium series which she claimed to have liked very much.

One drawback with books, some felt, was its difficult to carry the entire stock while one the move, but that the digital medium is easy to take along. Tarun, a trainee felt, now, people can go through more content than before. So, I think it helps people in improving their reading habits. It takes less time for people to go through digital apps.  He also felt that places like, Crossword, does encourage reading habit and that the quiet environment, the ambience helps.

Digital medium, despite all its advantages, has clearly been not able to replace the charm and feel of a book with all its glory in hard back, paper form. Not yet, atleast.

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