“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” - Mason Cooley
A recent article by Lorraine Shanley at Publishing Trends explores the effects COVID-19 has had on printed titles. Amongst other topics, the article discusses how on the one side we’ve seen giants like Amazon reduce print-title sales in order to prioritise virus-related products, yet on the other hand print technology continues to grow and as such, innovations such as improved custom printing, and print on demand have strengthened the print market.
There are proven neurological benefits to reading - Rhiannon Corcoran & Keith Oatley, at the Universities of Liverpool and Toronto respectively, have explored a scientific approach which provides evidence of a direct link between reading (particularly fiction) physical titles and improved mental health (see their work, ‘Reading and Mental Health’, pp 331-343, Palgrave Macmillan, Cham).
How have these benefits been affected by lockdowns across the globe?
The continued growth in demand and creation of digital publications has opened up the publishing world to new levels of accessibility, technology and efficiency. The process of finding, purchasing and starting to read a title can take only a few seconds.
In a world in which convenience is king, digital titles are undoubtedly revolutionary both for consumers and publishers.
But as with any revolution, there’s always the possibility that previous, older benefits might fall by the wayside amidst the journey of progress. The physicality of browsing print titles on shelves or tables in a real bookshop, wherein you can hold and flick through pages; or the studious yet strangely buzzing environment of a library, are experiences which many readers don’t find whilst on digital devices. And what of the negative effects of too much screen time, technology-induced isolation, and the social and mental health costs that often come with technological platforms?
COVID-19 has prevented readers from heading to physical bookstores and libraries, which for many stores has turned an already tough environment into an even more challenging one. Does this spell the beginning of the end for libraries? We don’t think so. But the publishing industry as a whole should take into account the mental health benefits which the physicality of titles offer.
The best solution is a healthy equilibrium between the convenient and speedy benefits of the electronic title, and the tangible, neurological benefits of the physical book. We should invest in both print and digital, not one over the other. Our customers enjoy choice as much as convenience, so as a publisher if you’re not providing your readers with both formats, you and your customer may be missing out.
It would be a great shame if the printed book, and the infrastructures supporting it, were to be negatively and indefinitely affected by the rise of digital. It’s up to us, both as publishers and consumers, to uphold the printed title.
If you’re interested in a more analytical approach to the subject of print vs. digital, we suggest you read Lorraine’s article at Publishing Trends. It’s a well-written, 5 minute article that is well worth your time: http://www.publishingtrends.com/2020/07/digital-printing-the-new-normal/
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