Has technology changed the way we read… or is the e-book a thing of the past?

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Thursday 1st March marks World Book Day 2018. It’s a celebration of books, a celebration of the authors and illustrators who bring characters to life and a celebration of reading. Books are such a significant and prominent part of everyday life from the books we learn to read as a child to the books we depend upon to relax and escape the stresses of reality. But with relentless innovations and advancements in the technology, the way we are reading is being challenged by the likes of e-readers, tablets and phones.

The launch of the Kindle in 2007 by Amazon largely disrupted the book market; the anticipation of a new and different way to read was welcomed by many. Following rising adoption of the e-reader, ownership peaked in 2014 with 1 in 4 UK book buyers owning one.  However, it’s been met with robust competition from phones and tablets and by 2017 the number of consumers who own an e-reader has steadily declined to 1 in 5.

Has technology influenced the way we read, and how much we read?

1. Eye-tracking research has shown that we tend to read in an F-shaped pattern (and fast too)

  1. We begin reading in a horizontal movement, typically the upper section of the page
  2. Following this, we tend to read again in a horizontal movement but a little bit lower down the page, which often covers less content than the first section
  3. Finally, readers glance down the pages left side in a vertical movement focusing on key words and phrases

The adoption of phones and tablets and their prominence in our everyday lives has subconsciously had an impact. We are constantly scanning and skimming the words on our screens and pages in front of us with our attention span much shorter, even more so when e-books are being read on devices we use for a multitude of other things

2. News stories and articles are now fed to us in bitesize chunks allowing us to take in key information and often words are supplemented with a video or graphics, for the busy commuter.

3. The increasing dominance of Netflix, YouTube and the internet is competition itself against reading, whether it be on an e-reader or in a physical format, as our leisure time is increasingly taken        up by a screen in one way or another.

However, despite all these technical advances we are seeing a resurgence in the traditional book. In 2016 sales of physical books rose by 4% with e-book sales declining by the same amount. Some genres simply don’t lend themselves to digital reading, such as children’s and cooking books.  There’s just something so tangible and visceral about an actual book that a tablet or e-reader will never replace.  The gorgeous pictures, the feeling of flicking a page, the smell of the freshly printed pages, seeing how far you have left and placing a bookmark there.  None of these are possible with an e-reader.  And for book-enthusiasts its likely that this will result in the physical book continuing to dominate the way we read.

For the many children who will be dressing up as their favourite book characters on World Book Day, it seems the physical book is here to stay, irrespective of technology.


Anna Cole, Research Analyst

Chris Handford