Books are back, screen fatigue sets in

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There are so many reasons to read a book, but one of the best is to “switch off” from modern life and enjoy a few peaceful moments of old-world technology. A printed book never runs out of power or needs a Wi-Fi connection and is unlikely to break if you drop it. Can an e-book ever offer such quiet and simple pleasure?

Screen fatigue is believed to be the key reason why sales of consumer e-books in Britain plunged 17 per cent last year. Meanwhile, sales of physical books increased by 8 per cent in the same period. More than 300,000 people visited the 27th Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, reflecting the enduring popularity of physical books. It was also obvious that the local publishing industry is flourishing as never before.

E-books certainly have their place – who wants to pack several paperbacks in your suitcase when you fly off on holiday? – but books are winning back audience share and rightly so

Clearly publishing, like other industries before (and since), suffered a bad attack of technodazzle: It failed to distinguish between newness and value. It could read digital’s hysterical cheerleaders, but not predict how a market of human beings would respond to a product once the novelty had passed. It ignored human nature. Reading the meaning of words is not consuming a manufacture: it is experience.

The book was declared dead with the coming of radio. The hardback was dead with the coming of paperbacks. Print-on-paper was buried fathoms deep by the great god, digital. It was rubbish, all rubbish. Like other aids to reading, such as rotary presses, Linotyping and computer-setting, digital had brought innovation to the dissemination of knowledge and delight. But it was a means, not an end.

Since the days of Caxton and Gutenberg, print-on-paper has shown astonishing longevity. The old bruisers have seen off another challenge.

Readers take a pleasure in a physical book that does not translate well on to digital. Virtual books, like virtual holidays or virtual relationships, are not real. People want a break from another damned screen.

 

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