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The Charm of Tangible Pages: Keeping Reading Alive in a Digital Age

Reading has become the hottest trend of the 21st century, How has this digital age affected the readers and authors of today?

A photo of the inside of a bookstore
Credit: Unsplash/Jason Leung

TikTok, Amazon, YouTube, and Instagram. What do you first think of when you hear these names?

 Maybe you think of shopping, doom scrolling, or binge-watching. But how often do you think of books?

Reading has become the hottest trend of the 21st century, from decorating Kindles to creating bustling book communities on social media.

How has this digital age affected the readers and authors, and where do you start if you are embarking on your book journey?

Brief History

To some, books haven’t always been cool, but the introduction of the Kindle in 2007 made them at least more accessible. Whilst the Kindle wasn’t the first e-reader, it sure was popular.

Long gone were the days of hefting around volumes that weighed as much as a small child. Now, you could fit your entire library collection of literature into your back pocket!

What Is The Digital Age Of Reading

Of course, in 2007, no one could’ve predicted how the digital environment would shape reading today.

At the heart of the book community today are things like Kindle Unlimited (KU) (introduced in 2014).

KU is a subscription service that provides users with instantly downloadable books free of charge. While the service costs money, frequent readers may find that it offers a cheaper and easier way to read, as they don’t have to pay for individual books.

Then there are the book communities. BookTok has become popular due to its supportive members and book recommendations.

So, what’s the theme here? Well, it’s speed. It seems that fast recommendations and downloads are the key to success.

What About Physical Reading?

Luckily, physical books have not been neglected. Bookstores have adapted by creating sections in their store specifically for online communities.

You may have even noticed this in your local stores; many have a table titled ‘BookTok recommendations.’

There is also an argument to be made that reading physical books is a completely different experience than digital books.

Some people even treat physical books as trophies.

To keep this magic alive and encourage the sale of physical copies, publishers have introduced special editions.

The slip case, hardcover embossing and inner artwork of the Lightlark Book
Lightlark by Alex Aster collectors edition. Credit: Amazon

Books with intricate embossing or sprayed edges that cannot be replicated on a screen.

Where Is The Crossover?

It’s completely understandable to be overwhelmed with the choices of how and what to read these days.

Some companies have filled this gap to create a digital environment that provides physical books and supports authors.

What is this magical invention, I hear you ask? Book subscription services!

Whilst all services are different, generally there are two options for buyers.

The first is the ‘book only box,’ which comes with a surprise special edition book, often with sprayed edges and embossing, and signed by the author.

Then, there is the regular box option, which often includes the book mentioned above and other miscellaneous book goodies.

Things such as bookmarks, mugs, and even blankets can be included, and the best part is that they are delivered straight to your front door.

This creates a completely new and exciting reading experience for the consumer.

Popular services include Illumicrate, Fairyloot and Owlcrate. These companies can also hold author chats and Q&As virtually, providing readers with that ‘bookstore’ feeling.

What Do The Readers Of Today Think?

I spoke with Abby Loucks, a BookToker whose videos have thousands of likes. Here’s what Abby had to say.

CB: Do you read mainly physical or digital books?

AL:  I read mostly on my Kindle app on my phone. I used to be a big physical book reader; I hated reading anything online. Now I have Kindle Unlimited, it’s easier to read books in a fast amount of time. It’s cheaper and more accessible to me.

CB: As someone who grew up reading, how have you found the transition to digital book communities?

AL: I love it, it’s been great, not only for readers but also for authors, a lot of indie authors have had great success by promoting their books on TikTok. I’ve found some of my favorite books on TikTok. BookTok is just a big book club!

CB: With digital being so accessible, are you worried there could be a world without bookstores?

AL: That would be horrible! KU is a great resource, but as readers, we also have to consider what that resource takes away. A world without physical books turns into a world without books. A physical book feels more meaningful than scrolling through a page.

What Do The Authors Of Today Think?

I also spoke to Cassidy Ellis Salter, a fantasy author.

Whilst Cassidy has previously written middle-grade books, they are now in the process of writing an adult fantasy trilogy!

This is what Cassidy had to say.

https://www.tiktok.com/@cesalter/video/7374504277043121440?is_from_webapp=1&sender_device=pc&web_id=7359988557963167265

CB: Do you read mainly physical or digital books?

CES: I’m a physical book reader, I don’t know why that is, it’s just a habit. I have a Kindle; it’s 10 years old, and I’ll dig it out if I’m about to go on holiday! I like having a physical book; I think it’s because I like being in bookstores and browsing. You can’t do that if you are just on Amazon.

CB: How have you found the BookTok community?

CES: My experience has been positive! There is a bit of crossover to AuthorTok as well, people are very supportive. People say authors are all colleagues; we don’t tear each other down, and we help each other. When it comes to different corners of the internet, BookTokers are some of the nicest, funniest, most thoughtful people you’re going to find.

CB: With everything being so public and digital, does it scare you how people will react when you release a new book?

CES: If you’re putting a book out then you are giving it to the public in a way, and people have every right to freely review it. It’s scary, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Who Should You Buy From?

Pile of books with a tablet propped against it
Credit: Shutterstock/TZIDO SUN

It’s our duty as readers to recognize that buying from some online retailers can negatively impact both authors and bookstores.

If you enjoy beautifully curated aisles and friendly staff, you can make the decision to buy physical books.

It’s worth considering if you want to contribute to the existence of bookstores in the future. Our patronage to them could be the deciding factor in whether they survive.

It is equally important to consider that online retailers are convenient and often cheaper than our beloved bookstores.

KU means users can get the book they want instantly with the click of a button. This speedy reading experience cannot be replicated with a trip to the bookstore.

Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Whatever your choice, you’ll need some recommendations to help you on your journey.

Recommendations

I asked Cassidy Ellis Salter and Abby Loucks what books they would recommend to new readers. Here is what they had to say.

CS: I would recommend a BookTok big hitter. If it’s popular on BookTok, it’s probably incredibly readable and compelling. It also means there’s a ready-made fandom for you to join, which adds to the experience! If you are just starting your reading journey, I’d recommend something like ACOTAR by Sarah J Maas; this is a good place to begin. If you’re into more serious fantasy, I would recommend Babel by R. F. Kuang. The world-building and magic systems are really cool!

A Court of Thorns and Roses fantasy novel in a bookshop on a stack of two other books.
ACOTAR Bookstack. Credit: Shutterstock/Hamdi Bendali

AL: The first book series that got me into reading was the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi; I love those books with my whole heart. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is also amazing. It’s lengthy, and a lot is going on, but they are the best books I’ve ever read. They are both easy reads and great to get your foot in the door. It depends on what you are into! There are so many authors and genres! The most important thing is that you enjoy the books you pick up.

Happy reading!

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Hi I'm Charlotte, I'm currently a university student studying towards my journalism degree, but in my spare time I love all things bookish or musical.

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