What’s the impact of technology to readers and their habits? In this advanced world of devices and convenience, the effect of tech has reached many aspects of lives, including our reading habits. Alexandra Alter, a reporter who covers the book industry for The Times, shares how she uses modern innovations for her job and daily life.
Kindle/ iPad or printed books?
As part of her job and personal interest, Alexandra Alter reads tons of books in a year. However, it’s not until just 2010 when technology allowed her to get into e-books, when her older daughter was born. She needed a way to read in a dark room, and with one hand, so she got a Kindle. Alter said, the Kindle made it possible for her to read while eating ice cream sandwiches, and taking care of her newborn when you basically can’t put the baby down. Now she’s on her 5ht Kindle.
Although, Alter still loves printed books, which she finds more relaxing and immersive to read, the Kindle is incredibly convenient when she reads books for work. Alter uses technology to keep all her books in a single device, which she brings wherever she goes. She also reads advance copies of books that publishers send through devices. Publishers give her digital copies through NetGalley or Edelweis, which are sites that book industry professionals and critics use to read copies before the books are published.
Another thing that she loves about e-books is they’re searchable. It can be useful in fact-checking, and the technology allows her to save notes and highlights, which can be quite helpful when she’s writing. E-books are handy as well, which she can read even when riding a crowded train. She said it resolved her mild phobia of being trapped somewhere, like a plane or a stalled train, with nothing to read. Alter said she also has a Kindle app on her iPhone, so she always has her entire library with her anywhere she goes.
The technology and the publishing industry
When Amazon introduced the first e-reader a decade ago, publishers panicked. They thought the technology behind digital books would take over the industry, just like how it changed the music industry. The fear has happened for a while. There was a time when e-books had grown more than 1200 percent. It affected bookstores, and print sales lagged. E-books made self-publishing easier as well, which threatened traditional publishers.
However, in just a couple of years, there had been a surprising reversal. Printing sales steadied, it even increased – and e-book sales slowed down.
One of the few factors to blame was the price surge of e-books. In some cases, an e-book costs more than a paperback edition. Digital fatigue may have also played its part. People spend too much time in front of their screens that when they read, they want to be offline. Another theory implies, Audiobooks had increased in demand. Audiobooks are easy to play, especially when you’re multi-tasking. In fact, it has been the fastest-growing format in the industry showing that this technology can truly simplify a person’s desire to access more books.
Social media use is also a factor. It had an impact in almost all types of media industry, including publishing. Although, social media has been a great tool to discover books, and connect with authors, it also trimmed down a big chunk of people’s reading time. According to an article in Quartz, if people spent the time they use on social media for reading, they could finish around 200 books a year.
The future of traditional publishers
Many new authors skip the traditional publishers, and use new tech tools to go straight to self-publishing. For Alter, self-publishing is one of the most fascinating corners of the industry. It helped a handful amount of self-publishing authors, who eventually were able to start their own publishing companies, and publish other “self- publishing” authors. However, despite the convenience of these technologies, traditional publishing survived through consolidation, which Alter believes, we can see more in the future.
How about the physical bookstores, and Amazon bookstores?
We didn’t see it coming, but indie bookstores made a successful comeback in the last years. It might be connected to the resurgence of print books, which allowed many independent bookstores to expand into mini-chains.
For Alter, the future of Barnes & Noble looks uncertain. The multiple setbacks it faced over the years, often ended in a disaster. When the company invested in digital hardware and its Nook device, as well as the time it tried to become a general-interest gift, toy and books store, alienated some of its customers, seemed to be misguided. Recently, Barnes & Noble focused on smaller concept stores, with cafes with food and wine and beer. Until finally, the chief executive announced that its new strategy will be about selling books. Alter said, for her, it was the smartest step for the company. Barnes & Noble is still a loved brand, and the only place that sells books in many parts of the US.
When Amazon entered a physical retail space, book enthusiasts thought it was fascinating, including Alter. The Amazon Bookstore at New York’s Columbus Circle, has successfully made a convincing ambiance, telling it’s a device store that also sells books. In fact, the store looks like a 3-D version of its website, where there are faced-out book covers and curated sections that reflect what’s popular among the customers. Amazon’s strategy to implement technology in as many everyday ways as possible sure is working with its rapid growth.
Others tech products for reading
Outside work, Alter has other devices that she’s obsessed with. She admits, she’s a podcast junkie. Alter also thinks The Daily to be habit forming. More of her go-to places are Planet Money, The New York Times Book Review podcast, Longform, the New Yorker Radio Hour, and some shows from Gimlet Media, like StartUp and Reply All.
Other popular tech
When asked about what other technologies are popular among Alter’s family, she mentions about this Japanese game, Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector. This game allows you to buy presents for your virtual, cartoon cats, which come and go as they please. The cats leave a fish as a return, and the gamer has no control over these cats, which is pretty like the real life.
Have a look at this video that explores the subject deeper: