Does the book hold more charm or has society moved over to the digital world for reading books like it has for everything else? How are the different stakeholders — readers, authors, publishers — affected by the digital revolution? Can it completely overtake physical books or can it co-exist? These are broadly the questions that came up before authors Kiran Manral, Nazia Erum, Ravindar Singh and publisher Henry Eliot during a panel discussion at an event in Delhi.
Singh of I too had a Love Story fame elaborates on the romance and charm of the book in comparison to the digital and says, “There is a whole romance in reading a book, no matter whether it is a fiction or a non-fiction one is reading. The entire charm is consuming the words and touching those words physically. Even though I know those are ink and paper but the imagination served to me on a platter of ink and paper is so raw and real.”
The first book he read while writing his book was Erich Sehgal’s Love Story.
On the memory of her first book, Mothering a Muslim author Erum reminisced, “There is a distinct memory of my brother sitting on a sofa and asking me to get a book from the shelf. I was the girl who was in awe of her brother who could read, so I would try and find the book he asked me to get and when I would come back with a wrong book, he would get annoyed. I remember that feeling of completely in awe of him and his books.”
While the physical book touches the reader in various ways, how does digital attract readers and did Kindle’s invention mean the death of books?
Eliot said, “There was a lot of anxiety in the publishing industry that if digital comes in a big way, that would be the death of the physical book. But it just hasn’t happened.”
“If anything, e-book sales rose and then plateaued whereas print sales have continued to grow. What the arrival of e-readers has done is to push publishers to up their game and produce better quality books that readers would love to spend their money to own,” – Henry Eliot
The way to read is to divide between what you read as books and what you read online.
Manral, who recently came up with her book Missing, Presumed Dead, said, “My reading is such that when I read a book and I feel that I want it in my library and I am going to read it over and over again, I go out and get a physical copy of the book. I consume news on the digital space but when I want to read something more intensive and non-fiction, I would prefer the physical copy because research wears me out because retention is much better on print than online.”
She added that note-taking is so much easier on print than on Kindle.
“No dog-earing, that’s blasphemy, but putting small asterix or making a reference point—there’s a certain joy in doing that in a book that’s not there in the digital,” – Kiran Manral
Singh listed the positives of e-books, saying that when his readers are in different countries, it gets easier for them to get the e-book where the book is not available. “It really works when the author is the commercial genre and the readers are in different geographies. But what’s sad is that when a book comes out, the next day people are sharing the pirated digital version of it on WhatsApp. I feel that piracy multiplies many times in the digital space than the physical space.”
While it does not matter whether you prefer e-books or physical copies, what is important is to read. And while digital initially did scare the lovers of physical books, the last few years have shown that both can co-exist.