Digital Reading: A Better Future

For some, there’s no experience that can compare to the joy of cracking open a new book or flipping through the pages of a well-worn novel. Yet, as we continue along in this digital age, more and more people are glued to their screens — leaving print books and all their kind in the lurch.

Offices are going paperless. No one writes letters. Everyone knows you don’t actually have to have good handwriting anymore. But we text, email, utilize social media apps.

We don’t write, we type — and we don’t read unless it’s off a screen.

Enter the eReader: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, the list goes on.

They’re portable and hold access to 1,000s of books. The Kindle was launched by Amazon in 2005 — making a splash as the perfect answer to the population’s need for instant gratification. It sold out within five and a half hours after being released.

According to Pew Research, the amount of Americans aged 16 and older that own eReaders reached 24% in 2013. In 2014, 32% reported owning eReaders. By the end of 2016, the number was down to 19%.

Why the decline? Approximately 45% of Americans own a tablet. 92% own cellphones.

A lot of statistics to sort through, sure. But their meaning is significant. With literature being available through apps such as iBooks and trendy storytelling communities such as Wattpad coming out with apps, we’ve switched to reading off the technology we already have.

Print-book purists will view the transition away from traditional books as a negative; that our preference for the digital reading method is indicative of a deeper social problem.

Maybe it is…perhaps our need for instant gratification — the need to have everything within reach — will be our downfall. Or maybe we should view it as a positive: perhaps the quick-paced preferences of today will continue to spur innovation.

After all, digital reading incites positive social and environmental impact.

“How?” ask the Print-Book Purists, voices tinged with skepticism and scorn.

Think of all the trees. Everyone loves trees. Why are offices going paperless? Why are so many bathrooms being solely fitted with hand-dryers?

To save the trees.

According to CleanTech, if you download approximately 20 books to your digital reading device, you balance out the device’s carbon footprint.

Just how many trees does digital reading save? Let’s break down the journey of freshly-approved print books:

1. The book is published.

Goodbye, trees. Hello, large carbon footprint.

2. The books are shipped off to stores.

Hello, fossil fuels. Goodbye, clean air.

3. Between 25% and 36% of books are then returned to the publisher.

Unless it’s Twilight, cause…everyone loves vampires? Anyways, more fossil fuels.

4. Leftover books are then incinerated, thrown away, or recycled.

Wasted trees — unless recycled, of course. Plus, all those pollutants from incinerating? Ugh.

How many trees die because of this process? A lot of trees. One tree can produce up to 8,333 sheets of paper. A 64,000 word-count book is usually around 240 pages. So, one tree can make approximately 34.7 books. Think that’s a lot of books?

BookScan reports that 653 million books were sold in the US in 2015: that translates into around 18,818,444 trees.

A 2009 study done by CleanTech showed that an eReader’s carbon footprint is quickly offset by its positive environmental impact. If the majority of the population embraced digital reading enough for traditional publishers to significantly reduce the number of print books published because of anticipation of eBook sales, the positive environmental impact would be monumental.

Now, let’s delve into the social impact of digital reading — primarily, how it can help promote literacy.

According to SpeechBuddies, eReaders and devices that support reading apps can help children who are struggling to develop reading skills. Features such as “text-to-speech” can help kids sound words out and thus, improve their reading ability. The reverse features of “speech-to-text” can prove useful for people with speech delays — while still improving their reading skills.

eReaders also cater to children with various learning styles as auditory reinforcement can help children who are auditory learners, while interactive features on the screen can engage those who are kinesthetic learners.

Ultimately, eReaders and reading apps promote a multi-layered learning approach that print books and other print literature don’t provide — and children aren’t the only ones to experience the learning benefits of digital reading.

eReaders and digital reading apps can help adults who are learning English (or any other language) as a second language. It also helps adults who struggle with general literacy.

A survey conducted by the U.K. based charity QuickReads showed that nearly half of adults in the U.K. said being able to read off of their digital devices had encouraged them to read more. Plus, the large amount of free eBooks available is inspiring more and more people to read books due to easy access.

Publishers have started to recognize the lean towards digital reading, leading major publishers such as Bloomsbury to come out with the eBook-only imprint of Bloomsbury Spark. Digital publishers such as Lulu and BookBaby have made the process of self-publishing an eBook incredibly easy. With digital-only imprints providing easy access to new books and eBook-publishers contributing to the growing trend of self-publishing, what’s not to like about digital reading? It promotes literacy and encourages creativity.

Print books are great. Walking through a bookstore can be thrilling: so many stories lining the shelves, thousands of creative aspirations and endeavors come to fruition. The history that fills the air in used-book stores can enhance the storytelling experience — dog-eared pages, cracked bindings…you wonder how many have enjoyed, loved, related to the story you’re about to dive into.

But the world is changing. We’re in a digital age: a time full of innovation, but also a time where everything must be convenient and instant. Digital reading appeals to the masses — and provides them with benefits and learning tools that far surpass those of print literature.

Digital reading also has the capability of having a massive positive impact on our environment. With the toll the traditional publishing industry takes on the environment, can its negative effect be justified? A complete transition to digital reading would leave the 18,818,444+ trees cut down for books every year still standing. Plus, the air would be free from the pollutants released from any leftover books incinerated.

Digital reading creates a better world. A better world leaves us free to live better stories. Would you make the switch? Have you already?