There has been a persistent debate about the popularity of books waning with kindle, audiobooks and online reading content taking precedence. Youngsters are moving away from book stores as they can easily find newly-released books online. But instead of pitting books against ebooks, why can’t technology be used to promote reading?
Is paperback going out of fashion?
Sakshi Singh’s books Rat-a-tat and Jalebi Jingles are being used to teach poetry in schools in India and the UK. Telling us what makes her want to continue writing in a technology-driven market, the author and teacher by profession says, “Can I say ‘joy and wonder’? We need more joy and more stories told with joy, more wonder of words — and I find it difficult to experience the same joy and pleasure that one would do with paper through a digital medium. Kindle and other digital mediums may help motivate them to read but the good old paperback is not going out of fashion. It may be practical to carry a Kindle but there is still so much to say through the written word, a story that can only be told through a piece of paper. There is sheer joy in holding a book and curling into another world.”
The multi talented Varsha Seshan, who was invited to speak at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore on issues of diversity and inclusiveness, is a writer, dancer and a teacher by profession. Having been inclined towards writing from a really young age, she feels that there was a dip in book sales, but the market is picking up again.
She says, “Additionally, parents are always trying to restrict screen time. From a different perspective, with apps and ebooks, I think we can reach a wider audience, so opposing electronic devices doesn’t seem very wise to me. It may be better to look at how we can use it, instead of regarding technology as competition.”
Parinita Shetty, who studied journalism and has three books published so far, is currently pursuing her MED at University of Glasgow. Shetty too believes that books and technology don’t have to be at odds with each other. She says “I also think technology, and the internet in particular (which I was only exposed to as a teenager), has played a significant role in shaping me into who I am today. Especially as a teenager, both books and the internet took me to different kinds of places (both real and fictional), introduced me to different types of people, exposed me to diverse lives, opinions and world views.”
Talking about the challenges that writers face in order to get a book published, Singh shares, “Getting a publisher can take several months or years, and even when you do receive a rejection of your manuscript you don’t know why it has been rejected — there is no feedback given.”
Among the many challenges, Seshan says the biggest is that everybody is a writer. She explains, “Every second person I meet is either writing a book or thinking of writing one. This means that editors are flooded with work, and the number of rejections a writer receives is quite high. Yet, that’s the reason the challenge becomes even bigger. Publishing is one thing; reaching the market is another. One of my pet angsts is that bookshops have a shelf for Indian fiction, which seems to deliberately exclude it from mainstream fiction. People who go to the ‘Indian Fiction’ shelf are looking for a particular kind of book, or a few broad categories — perhaps mythology, urban or rural stories, everything that we associate with India. So what about fantasy and adventure like Roald Dahl and JK Rowling? Those looking for Indian fiction rarely look out for modern fantasy or the delightful imaginative stuff. Where do we fit in?”
Shetty, on the other hand, feels that the biggest challenge is making people aware that your book exists once it gets published. She says, “I think there’s great potential to promote books in fun ways on the internet using the vast array of media we have at our disposal — Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Goodreads.”
Reading should be encouraged
But what is the real reason behind youngsters moving away from books? Singh opines, “Youngsters are not moving away from books as much as they are moving away from reading but then it isn’t just gadgets to blame. Schools and parents need to establish a reading ethos. Parents can’t expect their child to read if they don’t read themselves. That said, audiobooks are a great way for auditory learners but there is no way a book will ever be replaced.”
Seshan feels that the two go hand-in-hand. Listening to something with nothing to look at can be dull. A book plus an audiobook is the perfect combination, especially with modern working parents who may not have the time to read to children. She adds, “Technology has changed things, but the effects are not entirely negative.”
“Reading is such an isolated and sometimes isolating activity that the internet can offer a great community for readers to come together and have both in-depth and fun discussions,” says Shetty adding, “Reading is reading, no matter what form it takes. So if someone likes reading ebooks or likes listening to the story in an audiobook format — who decides that it’s a lesser form of literary engagement?”