It’s mostly during my commute to work that I people-watch. I’m always struck by the number of people who are engaging with their mobile phones in one way or another. Sometimes, while riding on the Metro train, I find myself bending sideways just to get a glimpse of what is keeping them glued to their phones. I know, I know, it’s terrible to be so nosy, but I can’t help it!
I recently read a UNESCO report that touches upon the socio-economic benefits of increased reading on mobile phones and it made me feel infinitely better about our new companions spreading like wildfire: “Although many parts of the world are book-poor, these same places are increasingly mobile-phone rich. Today, the United Nations estimates that 6 billion people have access to a working mobile phone and over 90 percent of the population is blanketed by a mobile network. Due to the ubiquity of mobile devices, UNESCO is investigating how they can be leveraged to advance literacy. The data connectivity fees required to read an open-access book on a mobile phone can be as little as 2 or 3 cents, while the cost of a comparable paper-and-ink book is often 10 USD. This means that mobile reading can be 300 to 500 times cheaper than reading books in a physical format. Mobile books are also typically easier to distribute, easier to update, and, in some instances, more convenient than paper-and-ink alternatives.”
Predictably, arguments centred around the Print versus Digital debate have been flying about in publishing circles. Last year, at the Digital Minds Conference, bestselling author Neil Gaiman said, “People ask me what my predictions are for publishing and how digital is changing things and I tell them my only real prediction is that is it’s all changing. Amazon, Google and all of those things probably aren’t the enemy. The enemy right now is simply refusing to understand that the world is changing.” But then there are also others like Maurice Sendak (author and illustrator of popular classic ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ who passed away in 2012) who had intensely disliked the very idea of e-books.
All this made us at Pratham Books curious about how authors and illustrators closer home feel about the changing form of the book – from print to digital. So we asked a few of our favourite creative folk, and here’s what they said:
Roopa Pai, Author
I wasn’t so sure about the digital space until I was gifted (a hand-me-down) an older version of the Kindle about 8 months ago. For the first two months, I didn’t even use it. But when I eventually came around to using it and downloaded my very first book, I loved it! Incidentally, I was also shifting houses around the time and ended up giving away a whole bunch of books to Blossoms. I’m not a hoarder, so this was a liberating experience! There are a lot of things I love about the Kindle. There are no distracting updates, there is no backlight – it’s essentially just like a book. Also, books are much cheaper on it and so much more accessible. You can buy it instantly! I think e-books are a huge blessing for Indian children’s authors because it’s very rarely – and erratically – that our books get stocked in Indian bookstores. Digitizing books also makes it easier for the global reading audience to access these books. I don’t think the format of the book really matters as long as children are comfortable reading it.
Archana Sreenivasan, Illustrator
Tablet and mobile devices open up whole new ways of presenting and consuming content, and personally, I’m very excited about the possibilities. I enjoy reading/experiencing content that is well designed for its medium, and that includes a good old-fashioned book. Having said that, I think that storytelling in the digital medium is still in a nascent stage of development, especially in India. These digital ‘books’ are not really books anymore. They’re new, hybrid creatures that could be a mixture of book, film and game. And the crux of creating the right experience is probably getting the balance right, because it’s very easy to get lost in the possibilities, or on the other hand simply port the traditional book format onto a digital device as-is, just adding a few page swipes. I haven’t had the opportunity to fully engage in a project of this kind, but it could be a very interesting and challenging space to work in.