Home » Books in General » How Technology Is (and Isn’t) Changing Our Reading Habits

How Technology Is (and Isn’t) Changing Our Reading Habits

18 January 2018

From The New York Times:

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Alexandra Alter, who covers the books industry for The Times, discussed the tech she’s using.

Given that you write about the books industry, how do you prefer to read books? On a Kindle or iPad or some other device, or printed books?

I came a little late to e-books, but I became a convert in 2010 when my older daughter was born. I needed a way to read books with one hand (and in a dark room), so I got a Kindle. The Kindle and ice cream sandwiches — also easily managed with one hand — are what got me through the brutal early weeks with a newborn, when you basically can’t put them down. Now I’m on my fifth Kindle.

I still love print books and find it to be a much more relaxing and immersive experience, but when I’m reading books for work — honestly, the bulk of my reading — the Kindle is incredibly convenient. I have all my books on a single device that I always have with me. I read advance copies of books that way: Publishers send me digital copies through NetGalley or Edelweiss, sites where book industry professionals and critics can get digital copies of books before they’re published.

. . . .

How is technology affecting the publishing industry?

About a decade ago, when Amazon introduced its first e-reader, publishers panicked that digital books would take over the industry, the way digital transformed the music industry. And for a while, that fear seemed totally justified. At one point, the growth trajectory for e-books was more than 1,200 percent. Bookstores suffered, and print sales lagged. E-books also made self-publishing easier, which threatened traditional publishers.

But in just the last couple of years, there has been a surprising reversal. Print is holding steady — even increasing — and e-book sales have slipped.

One possible reason is that e-book prices have gone up, so in some cases they’re more expensive than a paperback edition. Another possibility is digital fatigue. People spend so much time in front of screens that when they read they want to be offline. Another theory is that some e-book readers have switched to audiobooks, which are easy to play on your smartphone while you’re multitasking. And audiobooks have become the fastest-growing format in the industry.

. . . .

Many new authors are skipping traditional publishers and use tech tools to go straight to self-publishing their own e-books or print books. What will be the fate of traditional publishers in the next few years?

Self-publishing has been one of the most fascinating corners of the industry to me. There have been a handful of massively successful self-published authors who have started their own publishing companies, and they’ve started to publish other “self-published” authors. But publishers have survived so far through consolidation, and we’ll probably see more of that.

. . . .

 The future of Barnes & Noble looks uncertain, and the company has suffered setbacks after a few disastrous strategies. It made a huge and, in retrospect, unwise investment in digital hardware and its Nook device, and then tried to become more of a general-interest gift and toy and books store, which probably alienated some of its core customers. Lately, it has tried smaller concept stores, with cafes with food and wine and beer. There was some snickering online after its new chief executive announced that its latest strategy was to focus on selling … books. Snickering aside, I think it’s the smartest thing the company can do. In many parts of the country, Barnes & Noble is the only place people can buy books, and it’s still a beloved brand.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG wonders if anyone who doesn’t live in New York City suffers from digital fatigue. Perhaps digital fatigue is a surreptitiously funded marketing campaign.

Who’s funding it? It wouldn’t be surreptitious if we knew.

As for himself, PG often suffers from Big Publishing fatigue. Symptoms include an inexplicable desire to kneel while facing Seattle and a warm feeling whenever he passes a Starbucks even though he hasn’t drunk coffee for a long time.

PG will, however, keep his eyes open for symptoms of digital fatigue the next time he travels to the skinny island that time forgot.

Books in General

27 Comments to “How Technology Is (and Isn’t) Changing Our Reading Habits”

  1. There is always a certain grim fascination in seeing someone who rather obviously knows nothing about self-publishing blather on about it as though they know what they’re talking about.

  2. “In many parts of the country, Barnes & Noble is the only place people can buy books”

    Technically true. In many parts of the country B&N is the only physical place you can buy a paper book. For someone who does so much of her reading on a Kindle this and other statements of hers are simply duplicitous

    • No, not “technically true”—because you have to add those words in order to make it true. If it were technically true, you wouldn’t have to add anything. 🙂

      • Well, technically technically, if you live in Outer Podunk (the famed metropolis of West Dakota, you know), and buy a book from Amazon, the place where you are buying the books is not actually in Outer Podunk, WD, itself. You are buying books in Seattle and having them sent to you in a plain brown wrapper (unmarked white van optional). There is no bookshop, online or off, physically located in Outer Podunk. I dare say there isn’t a Barnes & Noble in the whole of West Dakota now.

        Now, if you were the typical navel-gazing Manhattanite sap that tends to get employed by Big Publishing, you would have a definite impression, not founded on anything so sordid as facts, that the people in West Dakota have never heard of the telephone, let alone the Internet, and if they want to get books from Seattle they have to crawl there on their hands and knees, over roads paved with broken glass, uphill both ways, and will probably be ambushed at least once by the army of Sitting Bull.

        This is what snobbery does to people. A snob feels superior to others, and it follows plainly that he can only do his snobbing if there is somebody he can think of as inferior to himself. A fairish number of the people recruited by Big Publishing are, in a fairly strict sense, unemployable: they lack the skills or knowhow to hold down an honest paying job, and will take an unpaid internship even if they have to pay rent in New York to do so. In effect, they are paying their employers to pretend to hire them.

        A person like that has got to do some pretty imaginative thinking to conceive of someone inferior to himself. These folk can only maintain their snob status by imagining Flyover Country to be inhabited by creatures who have only just crawled out of the primordial ooze and are still learning to live on land. And there you are. Few or no amphibians, and precious few marine crustaceans, have the capacity to order books from Amazon.

        • Dude, please start taking your medication again.

          Most of the time that I hear someone deride this site for partisanship, I think they are wrong. But then I read something like this. Change a few words and this would be the worst kind of deranged “black helicopters and int’l lib’l conspiracy” nonsense you might see in the comment section on Fox News.

          If you think this is in any way a rational or reasonable comment you are sorely mistaken.

          • I’ve lived in West Dakota (literally. Throw a rock out the front door and it landed in Montana). That’s pretty much the way it feels, as far as how other people see you. Oh, and Alaska too, where people think you live on the MOON. Maybe check your own bias please? Because I was cracking up. 🙂

            • I will co-sign this comment. I have actually heard the actual, serious question “you have libraries there?” when talking to coastal folk about where I lived.

              The personal comment against the commenter is also below the standards we’ve more or less unofficially set for ourselves here. Do better next time.

              • The only reason it is “below the standards we’ve more or less unofficially set for ourselves here” is because you have set a double standard.

                You appear to be perfectly fine with Tom insulting the publishing industry, but Tom himself is out of bounds. That is a double standard.

                And if you are going to defend it by saying the others aren’t here then I would point out that the reason they’re not here is because it is within the rules to insult them on this site.

                • The publishing industry isn’t a person. Tom is. You can’t ‘insult’ an industry, it doesn’t have feelings. Calling a person out and saying they should take their medication is ten kinds of insulting, not just to Tom, but to anyone with a mental disorder that requires medication. The ‘publishing’ industry in itself, is an insult to every author who’s ever tried to write for a living. The fact that this article insults self-publishers, not an industry, but actual people, makes it fair game for mockery. What you did wasn’t mockery, it was bad manners.

                • Tom didn’t insult an industry. He insulted people:

                  “A fairish number of the people recruited by Big Publishing are, in a fairly strict sense, unemployable: they lack the skills or knowhow to hold down an honest paying job, and will take an unpaid internship even if they have to pay rent in New York to do so. In effect, they are paying their employers to pretend to hire them.”

                  Anyway, while my comments were no worse than what Tom wrote, they were also no better. I regret getting down in to the muck with Tom. Just because he was spewing bile doesn’t mean I had to join in.

                  I’m done here.

            • West Dakotan here…more central actually. I got a good chuckle out of the comment also, especially because I work with the telecom industry and ND has some of the best broadband in the country. So, I found this especially funny, because people don’t realize how connected we are. We have million$ internet businesses right in town, one visited by Mark Zuckerberg last fall when he came to ND. Yet we do feel like those who call us “flyover country” see us as the very primordial slop described.

          • Your insults are duly noted. Your lack of any actual response is also noted.

            Do you deny that publishers routinely fill junior positions with liberal-arts graduates on unpaid internships? Or that many of their employees, particularly in the editorial departments, have been promoted from such internships? People who can get paid employment in their fields do not commonly volunteer to work in New York City without pay merely in order to get a toehold in the workplace.

            Do you deny that the industry is notoriously blinkered, and exhibits the stereotypical New York incomprehension of anything west of the Hudson River?

            Sir, I have been dealing with publishing people, in one way and another, for over thirty years. I have never seen or encountered any other industry which is run by such a collection of incapables.

  3. Ashe Elton Parker

    But publishers have survived so far through consolidation, and we’ll probably see more of that.

    And how is this good for authors? Also, how is consolidation not an industry grasping at straws in order to survive?

    • Since when does the NYT care about authors?
      It’s not as if authors buy full page ads…

      The only thing that matters in their publishing world is the BPHs. Everybody ele can go hang.

    • Consolidation is not “an industry grasping at straws to survive.” It’s just business.

      Businesses merge or acquire to maintain or increase shareholder value. That is the sole reason for any corporation to do anything, at least according to folks like Milton Friedman.

      Preserving an industry at the expense of shareholder value is a violation of trust. Sometimes judgement is bad and value decreases or goes sideways. But that is another issue.

      Humans may make economic decisions based on whims like cultural value or fairness, but corporations are constrained to maximize value following market principles. As a human, you may think that self-preservation matters, and as a group of humans, folks in traditional publishing might want to preserve what they are familiar with, but the guys who control consolidation had better stick to shareholder value.

  4. Just a brief comment about brick and mortar bookstores. My grandson’s eyes light up when I announce a trip to the Barnes & Noble. Browsing through physical rows of children’s books, picking them up, looking them over, is a special pleasure. We get the same kick from the library, but the library of course is behind on the very latest in kid fantasy fiction. So a stop at Barnes & Noble around Christmas and birthday time is an outstanding treat.

    • A+, the world of the child. Thanks D.

    • My children love the Scholastic broadsheets they bring home monthly, and boy do they go wild when Scholastic sets up their annual book sale in the school library.

      I’ve said this before – as far as publishers go, I *like* Scholastic. They are very customer focused, as in “what do my customers want” and “what is a good way to reach them.”

      • i like scholastic too, for exactly those same reasons; they are a good model for indie authors also

        Great that your kids have you as a parent

  5. I have digital fatigue, PG, and I live in Chicago. Eighty percent of my pleasure reading is done on paper, and much of that is from the library.

  6. I do a lot more reading on paper these days, simply because I am in front of a screen all day, and I tend to like the tactile experience of print books as much as my eyes need a break from the backlighting (I have a condition that makes computer fatigue a very real thing – and my day job as a database admin requires a lot of screen time). I do have a kindle I read on as well, but not nearly as often as I used to.

    I also enjoy browsing our local bookstores (I’m in Montana, and while we do have a Barnes & Noble, we also have a nice indie bookstore) and picking out print books – I get tired of flipping through web pages to read blurbs after awhile. I like seeing/handling books as objects, not just as reading material.

    Just because you don’t get tired of screens doesn’t mean people other than New Yorkers don’t. It just means you don’t.

    • In the past few months, I’ve been forced to read more paper than I would ordinarily choose to because the books I want to read at the moment are not available or too expensive digitally. Used paper books are often an amazing bargain these days.

      I’m surprised that I’ve enjoyed it more than I expected. There is something familiar and comfortable about paper books. I do find them more eye-straining than I expected, perhaps because I have gotten lax about positioning reading lamps.

      I have found myself readjusting my attitude. I certainly am not about to abandon digital– I still read more digital than paper– but I am thinking about more paper books for the first time in quite a few years.

  7. Heh, was rereading a series I’d picked up years ago, for most of it I have the mobi files for my kindle, but one I only have in paperback. A 600+ page paperback that I spent the whole time rereading the same lines trying to find where I’d left off after any distraction squinting at the tiny type I couldn’t scale up to an easier to read (for me) size.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story, just not the format when I know there are better ones out there.

    YMMV as they say. 😉

    • I’m with you. Whenever I have to read from a paper book my first response is “ewww.” The Kindle is light, adjustable, comfortable and portable. Best of all I can have my entire collection at my fingertips. Each to their own, but the ‘tactile’ of reading adds nothing to the story. And story is the only reason I read.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.