This week, Pew Internet Research released a study on young readers, their library habits, and reading preferences. Although ereading continues to grow, the eye-opening part of the survey for some has been the high percentage – 75 percent of those aged 16-29 – who have read a print book in the past year.
Count me among the surprised. I would have thought the percentage of print readers would have been lower. Print has an interesting stickiness – it’s still available nearly ubiquitously, both in book- and general stores, as well as through Amazon – and it has one other gainful characteristic. It is a self-contained media package. Unlike walking around with an LP, CD, or DVD, which are useless in-and-of themselves, most of us can stick a book in our purse, bag, or jacket and not require anything else to go forth and ponder the world’s mysteries or plumb an imagination. (Except reasonably dry weather).
Of course, there’s a fly in the ointment. Well several, but I personally came across one the other day in a jarring fashion. Last month, I wound up purchasing two print books: one, a mass market paperback, and one hardback. Both purchases were driven by vexations with the clumsy, overly-corporatized digital transformation of publishing. First is the continuing gnash-the-teeth frustration that my partner and I have figuring out a way to share our ebooks, which we are wont to do, since we have overlapping interests in literature. We will probably wind up sharing a single Amazon account, but it’s a stupid solution that grates. Second, the rights associated with the pocket book have not been adjudicated for digital; for the hardback book, which is older, and concerns itself with political diplomacy with a scholarly bent, a digital reprint must represent a questionable source of income for its publisher.
I couldn’t read either one of them. It was a purely physical, I’m-getting-older experience, but I found the contrast of type on paper for both the mass market paperback and the better-manufactured hardback rather execrable. The paper stock in both volumes was darker than I would expected, and appeared rough. The printing itself was not very sharp, and the apparent fuzziness of the font’s strokes made the experience more tiresome. I reached for reading lamps to no avail. The fact of the matter is that I am now used to high contrast, highly controllable screens. Putting aside all the endless stupidities of DRM and the inane restrictions on access that prevent my family from enjoying books together, reading digitally is simply superior – it is more customizable, and extends more control to the reader.
It is this basic, raw accessibility of digital reading that makes the recent WIPO Marrakesh agreement on the right to read for people with reading disabilities so damn important. The treaty won’t help me (yet, anyway), but for the first time, it will be possible for accessible editions to cross borders without needless restrictions, and for a reader to be able to access global reading-impaired library platforms built from books from many different countries. Up until now, for example, it has been impossible for the Internet Archive to make available its DAISY-formatted and protected modern books to blind or dyslexic readers in Canada or other Commonwealth countries.
As James Love of Knowledge Ecology, one of the foremost advocates for greater access by the disabled, comments in a statement:
The treaty will provide a dramatic and massive improvement in access to reading materials for persons in common languages, such as English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Arabic, and it will provide the building blocks for global libraries to service blind persons. On the issues that mattered the most for blind persons, such as the ability to deliver documents across borders to individuals, and to break technical measures, the treaty was a resounding success.
Shame on the MPAA, GE, Disney, and Viacom, among other corporations, for resisting the treaty. Their intransigence in gracefully acknowledging the greater access that digital technologies make available to the blind and dyslexic should be widely noted.