Physical Books – The Future of Reading

In today’s times, we have many options when it comes to reading. For example, we can choose between physical, electronic and audiobooks. While physical books have always been there, electronic and audiobooks are relatively recent. And while they took the world by storm when they made an appearance and heralded the exit of physical books, have they really done that? Has everyone stopped reading physical books and chosen to go for these options? 

Well, I, for one, had not got bitten by the electronic bug. Though the electronic options seemed like a practical choice, mainly during travel when I could take one tablet instead of lugging 3-4 books, I still chose to travel with my books. Somehow the touch and feel of a book were far too precious to me than the seemingly practical convenience offered by an ebook. So holding a book in my hand, turning the pages, and putting in a bookmark which also had been lovingly picked up, were feelings that were too special and could not be substituted by anything else.

And then I went on this trip to Iceland and Scandinavia. One of the things I did there was to scour around for bookshops and pick up at least one book from each of them. And what an incredible experience it was! The bookstores, the collection, the ambience, and the various innovative things that bookstores were into were quite an eye-opener for me. From antiquarian book stores to literature bars, to book cafes to libraries, I visited them all to get a feel of the book reading culture in that part of the world. So one conclusion that I reached was that people there not only love to read, but they love to read physical books. They visit bookstores that thrive as a result and spend time browsing around and looking for their choice of books. Ordering books online is also not a big thing there.

One would have thought that the western world would have been taken over by technology with its technologically superior existence so that physical books would have been done away with. But not at all. On the contrary, the bookstores were full of people browsing, discussing and buying books. Not only grownups, but I could see children as well.

And everywhere, the view was the same, which was that nothing could take physical books away. No matter how many other options, there was no way that they could replace physical books. And what I was given to understand was that ebooks are now on the decline, and people are going back to buying printed books.

Though it was a heartwarming revelation, I was very keen to get to the bottom and understand the reason behind this. So I got talking to some of the bookstore owners, the staff and even some of the customers, and I discovered why people there had gone back to paper books. The reasons were quite enlightening and pointed out how one should never discard the old just because there is something new. 

So here I am sharing some facts about physical books highlighted during those conversations.

1. Unique Experience

Most people I spoke to firmly believed that no other form of reading could ever replace the feeling you get when you hold a book in your hand. The joy of the touch and the smell of the paper is something that only a physical book can give. It is a unique and delightful experience. You can hold the book, fold it, dog-ear it and give it your stamp. It belongs to you and exists the way you want it to.

 They felt that an electronic book, on the other hand, is too impersonal. It is just a device like all the other devices that we use. So you can do a lot of things on that device, and reading is just one of them.

Not only that, but when you read, turn the pages, and see how far ahead you have gone, you also get this sense of accomplishment. This can be very encouraging for those who are new to reading. 

Physical books have a tangible and real feeling to them. They give a feeling of ownership which an ebook cannot because it belongs to the device. Reading a new physical book gives a feeling of newness and freshness, which an ebook can never do. That is because you are reading a book on the same old device.

2. Free from Distractions

 Reading is supposed to give you joy and take your mind away from everything else, which you can achieve by reading a physical book. A physical book takes your mind away from everything else happening in the world. There are no messages, no calls, no notifications. 

On the other hand, an ebook with the constant beeps and pings can take the joy away; in fact, it can be more stressful reading an ebook due to the constant interruptions. A physical book is just for you to read and focus upon. 

3. Reduce Screen Time

Then the point about screen time. They all felt that reading a physical book was a fantastic way to get away from screens to which we are hooked all the time. Our eyes and our brain need rest from constantly looking at screens. So what better way than a printed book to do that?

4. Greater Retention Power

It is a scientifically proven fact that the brain can retain and absorb a lot more if the reading material is in a printed form. The digital version may be faster to read, but its retention is also much lower; therefore, it makes sense to read and retain rather than read and forget.

5. Enhance Benefits of Reading

 Reading printed books helps us and, in particular, children to become better readers. Since you have to focus and concentrate and there are no distractions, you comprehend, understand, and read better.

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6. Joy of Buying a Physical Book

They also felt that the joy of browsing in a bookstore amongst hundreds of books and then picking up one could not be matched by anything else. Looking at the cover and flipping through the pages can be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience. You can move from shelf to shelf, bookstore to bookstore till you find what you want. And sometimes, you could stumble upon something you weren’t looking for. That is because there is no impersonal algorithm that guides the search process. It is just you and where your mind takes you.

7. Increase Attention Span

 One of the benefits of reading is that it helps in increasing the reader’s attention span and the ability to concentrate. While ebooks enable quick reading, skimming, scrolling and linking, printed books are designed for slow and gradual processing with singular and focused lines of thought. The result is that your patience levels and your attention span increase.

8. Aesthetic Appeal

 Paper books are not only about reading; they also have an aesthetic appeal. Physical books are about decorating, showcasing and giving a cheerful feel to your space. Your bookshelves and your walls can become bright and colourful with books.

9. Books and Permanence

 Books have been a part of our existence for thousands of years. Libraries existing the world over are proof of this. Therefore what has been true of the past will be true of the future as well. Physical books will continue to exist no matter what. They are not dependent on anyone or anything for their survival.

On the other hand, an ebook is at the mercy of the device on which it has been stored and its longevity. So, for example, if the device gets discharged, breaks or gets damaged, your books are lost. In the case of a physical book, you may lose or misplace one; you can’t lose all.

10. Not Dependent on Technology

 You may need technology to print a book, but you are not at the mercy of technology once it is done. A physical book is yours forever till you decide to part with it. You don’t need wifi, a battery or a charger for it. You can read when you want and however much you want.

So therefore, it is only a matter of time before the rising curve of electronic books will start to flatten all over the world and then start falling. After that, there will be no debate about ebooks Vs physical books. 

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However, I feel that audiobooks may still stay on, considering it is an altogether different format. One doesn’t read an audiobook, one listens to it, so it has a better chance of surviving and succeeding. Therefore it is quite possible that we see physical books coexisting with audiobooks in tomorrow’s world.

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  1. Shobha Sengupta June 15, 2022 at 8:20 am - Reply

    A much required piece in today’s distracted and fragmented times! A brilliant piece.

    • Sangeeta Relan June 18, 2022 at 11:20 am - Reply

      Thank You so much!

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Hello! I’m Sangeeta Relan. Aside from being an educationist teaching at the university level for the last 28 years, I have been a corporate wife and a mother to two boys who have now flown the nest. I love cooking, singing, travelling and exploring new places.

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