Do We Really Need to Innovate the Reading Experience?

ebook-reading-300x300.jpgReading a book used to be considered a fairly straightforward experience.

You opened the book (it was a print book) and you started reading.

Today we have ebooks and audiobooks, which, to varying degrees, have changed our reading experiences. With an ebook, we can read that same print book on our phones, on our computers, on our tablets or on our e-reader devices. And with digital audiobooks, we can now listen on our phones to someone else read the text from that print book.

I hear a lot of talk about how ebooks didn’t innovate enough, or how ebooks are unsatisfactory—that they’re stuck in this “print-under-glass” model that offers nothing new to the reading experience.

I also hear about companies, both within and outside of traditional publishing, that are trying to change the reading experience, be it through new platforms or apps that bring in other forms of media or break a book down into smaller segments.

Maybe I’m a bit naive, but my question is, why?

I understand that there can be educational benefits for children who might find traditional reading to be boring. An app or the integration of audio, video and games can spark their interest and get them on board with reading.

But for those of us who grew up on print books and for whom ebooks and audiobooks are viable alternatives, what is it in our reading experiences that we are so sorely lacking?

Are print books and ebooks no longer effective? Do some people believe they are somehow antiquated?

I understand that reading must now compete with other, perhaps more immediately rewarding, forms of media, and that today’s attention span is, on the whole, probably diminished. But for those of us who want to read, we’re going to read.

“Reading” a book on a device on which I’m inundated with video and audio and my processing of the text is interrupted is, to me, not reading. It’s an entirely new experience.

I’m not saying that this experience doesn’t have a place, but in my view, it’s not innovating reading so much as creating a new experience that incorporates reading.

To that end, what is so wrong with the print-under-glass model of ebooks? What else were we expecting? To my eyes, an ebook on my Kindle looks a lot like a print book in my hands. And that’s exactly how I want it to be.

So I ask, is there a demand for new reading experiences? Is there not, and this whole need to innovate reading is simply overblown?

I’m admittedly a traditionalist, and I do the bulk of my reading in print. When I travel, I lean on my phone and Kindle a bit more. And I do worry that we are trying to redefine reading in a way that could be detrimental.

As I said before, I see the educational and social benefits of integrating other activities into children’s digital reading, but I wonder how such experiences could negatively affect a child’s conception of reading. Growing up using these new apps and devices, will she be predisposed to choosing non-traditional forms of reading going forward? Will print books (or even “simplistic” ebooks) not be good enough for her?

Maybe I’m writing out of self-interest, but this notion that we need to innovate, innovate, innovate seems misguided. Are there areas of book publishing where innovation would be beneficial? Absolutely. But the actual experience of reading? Not so much.

Author: Daniel Berkowitz
Twitter: @DanJBerkowitz


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