Are we reading eReaders or are eReaders reading us?

ereader-libraryThere is a cloud looming over print publication and although I like to believe that I can still feel the sun on my face, I am well aware that I have mistaken it for the luminous computer screen that stares back at me.

There is a growing anxiety for the printed book; you know, the dusty one that you’ve stowed away in a drawer you are too afraid to open in case spiders escape. I hate to admit it, but that book is one of many that is being replaced by one of popular culture’s most exciting trends: the eReader.

But, that is exactly what it is, right? A trend. Print publications have been digitised and converted into downloadable formats so that the physical act of purchasing a book from a store has become a primitive sort of practice. Sachin Kamdar’s optimistic article on ‘Why Publishers are about to Go Data Crazy’ demonstrates the point that the eReader, and such other innovations are transforming the world of literature into a marketable, capitalistic business. This is made clear when he mentions the period of opportunity that analysts are now entering with the rise of readable, digitised data that is readily available in compatible formats for statistical research and “measuring the performance of content”.

“It’s about supply and demand”, Kamdar states. To me, this statement sounds like the author is being reduced to a mere factory worker, assembling the parts of a product that must meet the industry’s criteria in order for it to be sellable to the public. This criteria is being formulated by business ‘professionals’ that base the worth of a product on how many downloads it has received or how many reads it gets.

Jonah Lehrer’s article on ‘The Future of Reading’ recognises that the process of attaining literature has never been so easy. Thousands of books can be stored on a simple electronic device and downloading them can take place anywhere and at any time. Just think! You will never have to visit a store between opening hours again! The stimulating television commercial for the Kobo eReader similarly praises the effectiveness of eReaders for their “lightweight” feel and their “portable” nature. I may be mistaken, but books tend to be fairly lightweight in relation to the build of the human form and their portability is irrefutable. The real difference between these two products lies in the focus on the ‘cool’, ‘new’ product, that is, the eReader as opposed to the book as a product of literary skill.

The marketing strategies for the eReader and the hype that they receive have pushed literature into the realm of smart phones, tablets and other such gadgets where their nature is transient until the next, more improved device hits the shelves.

My concern for literature lies in the value we place on reading and whether our consumption of digital reading formats have confused our perception of literature; are we too obsessed with trends and have publishers tainted literature with their corporate visions? I only know one thing for certain, and Mike Shatzkin summarizes it concisely: “Bookstore shelf space is declining. Nobody who has been reading this blog needs much elaboration on that point.”

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