The changing nature of reading?

How is the growing use of e-books chaining academia and the publishing industry?

In the world of books, “the times they are a-changin'”, as Bob Dylan told us. And if bookshops and publishers are going through intense upheaval, this must affect the most compulsive producers and consumers of the written word – academics.

In what economists might call the “value chain” of reading, there are four distinct stages, all of them changing in unnerving but interesting ways. Of course, the process starts with the author, combining two substages, research and then writing; then comes publication which, for both journal articles and books, has historically involved commercial publishers or university presses. Then for books, if not journals, there are the booksellers, the only link in the chain to communicate directly with readers. (Libraries remain an important part of the ecosystem for academic and scholarly works but sadly no longer for general books and lay readers.)

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No Spark Kindled

The e-reader cannot surpass the pleasures of the page, says Gary Day, where everything is illuminated

Let’s hear no more about Kindle, Amazon’s “Revolutionary Wireless Reading Device”. It looks like a roof slate. A moment of carelessness and it could be used to fix a leak. So what if it can store 3,500 books? Who is going to read that many in a lifetime? Who can read that many? That’s about 46 books a year, providing you start as soon as you pop into the world and carry on until you pop out of it.

And what if you leave it on a train? There goes your entire library. No, give me the hardback or the paperback. The one gives you gravitas, the other establishes your democratic credentials.

You can also write in the margins. Try doing that on a Kindle. In the 14th century they emblazoned their margins: great drapes of colour drawn back to let the words shine forth. Open a medieval parchment and you stare into the heart of light. Switch on a Kindle and you get 16 shades of grey. The Beauty of Books: Medieval Masterpieces (BBC Four, Monday 14 February, 8.30pm) was a joy.

The Luttrell Psalter and The Canterbury Tales were examined in turn. Adjectives like “earthy”, “whimsical” and “grotesque” abounded. The Psalter, bustling with images of daily life, was commissioned by a landowner, Geoffrey Luttrell. He tried to get on the right of side of God by being portrayed with Truth and Mercy. Dr Carolyne Larrington of St John’s College, Oxford ticked off the illustrator who gave Chaucer’s clerk a bow (“quite inappropriate”) before reading a racy excerpt from The Merchant’s Tale in a monotone. Quite inappropriate.

This story grabbed my attention, as although I love technology where appropriate, and I’m happy to read documents/research texts online, I really don’t enjoy reading fiction on my iPad… nothing better than curling up with a good book! Read full story.