icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an  ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.


Chronological Index | Subject Index

Longing for a Walkman effect

About the ebooks unhappened revolution

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). Longing for a Walkman effect. About the ebooks unhappened revolution. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 9.5 (May). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-5.html

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). Longing for a Walkman effect. About the ebooks unhappened revolution. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 9.5 (May). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-5.html

London 26 May - The Covid-19 lockdown has released time and pressure on one side and demanded more attention to other activities on the other: many have, more or less forcibly, started something new.

For example, I have reviewed my previous decision not to publish ebooks, in spite of having started a formal self publishing business few years ago: during the past month I had the opportunity to enjoy the fun and easiness of the process of transforming a previously “traditionally” printed on demand booklet into a Kindle ebook and a new paperback version, using Kindle Direct Publishing (The neglected librarian, 2017).

I have witnessed the fantastic transformations that occurred in this sector over four decades, first as a published author and librarian in my twenties and then as an ICT and media consultant. I could not be happier to see what extraordinary simplification of tasks is now being offered to authors and editors, thanks to the impressive level of automation of digital publishing.

However, if I was a printer or a professional proofreader who lost a regular job or was furloughed, I would possibly try to see if there isn’t any good business opportunity for me out there: a wide range of minor but important activities are unbearable for many self published or wannabe writers. Nevertheless they are essential to get the job done through the platforms - things like formatting, proofreading, curating texts and images and more. This is another sign that printed books (those on paper!) still stick on our collective imagination and way of thinking, representing, producing and obviously consuming books - offline as well as digital. The “printed book” visual inventory is like a layer of civilisation that just does not disappear only because we feel we are now all online, digital, and on Zoom!

The business case for ebooks

Anyhow, the decision to publish ebooks has suddenly led me to review the reasons why I preferred not to do it just until few weeks ago.

It turned out, very simply, that for several years I was strongly convinced that people do not actually read ebooks. I still remain greatly skeptical about it, independently from any other economic consideration that makes publishing ebooks worth a try.

Of course we all want to browse them, buy and own them so that we can carry them with us at all times, download, share and even create them etc. But, as long as reading is defined as a cognitive activity that requires concentration and self awareness, I am afraid we do not actually read ebooks as we would do with the printed text - but for successful cases of immersive fiction or for the lure of ready answers that attracts information seekers towards bestseller, niche titles, documentation and reference titles (to some extent, I hope my productions can fit in the last two categories!).

Having now published an ebook from such a skeptical, if not biased, cultural position, I felt the need to review my understanding of the issue, in case I missed any recent relevant piece of scientific research. In truth, I would also like, sooner or later, to make money from my self publishing efforts, so I'd better try to understand more of what I do.

Very predictably, I found and liked an article published in “Scientific American” (Ferris, 2013) that reminded me what I already knew. I am going to be hopeless, I told myself! But it is true that the scientific evidence supports a notion of "physicality of writing and reading" that cannot be totally replaced with equivalent online or ebook experiences.

Innumerable empirical studies have kept on appearing for the last ten years: reading and literacies seem a highly fragmented field of research. The literature supports a variety of claims and practical purposes, from confirming the commercial success and appeal of the ebook formats and the printing on demand technologies (something I have anticipated in my book La nuova editoria in 2001, so I am not learning anything new here) to the provision of computers, e-textbooks and e-learning platforms to schools, passing through the organisation of libraries’ services (all done, all done, I am desperate in trying to get something to learn about ebooks that makes sense from the reader perspective and justify the authors' and publishers' economic efforts).

There are no many studies on what is changing in the way we read on the screens (or because of it). There is in fact the theoretical possibility that brain functions can be monitored for research experiments through electroencephalograms to see how people process language and cognitive tasks while reading online and on paper as well as while listening to audiobooks or interacting with the social features available within many reading digital platforms and apps: annotate here, share there, magnify this, search that - an impressive array of... distractions from reading.

I have also found depressive that so little is said and investigated about the remedies or palliatives that indeed have been found to the lack of actual reading for texts on screens, at least in the field I practiced (instructional design and e-learning products for adults).

Never mind the above infertile research scenario about e-reading, the ebooks market has boomed in recent years and this is a reality.

Amazon has been attempting to compensate self published authors not anymore on royalties on the volumes of books sold but on the number of pages actually read by the public. It looks like the latter analytics could be at the same time convenient for the intermediary and for the traditional media publisher and their potential advertisers much more than for the same authors. Is that fair? Is it sustainable?

In conclusion, as a self-published author, I am happy to publish e-books and glad I have changed my mind about the operational side of it but the rationale of my endeavours in the self publishing sector remains anchored to the main scope of publishing paper-based, printed on demand editions: open to reading.

The Walkman revolution has not arrived yet

Does anybody remember what listening to music was like before Sony invented the Walkman? The revolution of listening was deep and rapid, enabling an entire range of new personal ways to consume music or listen to audio contents “anytime anywhere”. A new expression entered the social science vocabulary: “the Walkman effect”, that special state of mind that ensures quality of listening but also a level of concentration functional to do something else, while isolating from the noise of the external world.

The Walkman effect has in turn brought about microscopic but strategic changes in other areas of social interactions and productivity, like working, thinking, reading and writing while travelling on crowded trains or sharing busy open office spaces with dozen of other people.

Will e-reading ever lead us to something different in the ways we process information - and namely written information - as the Walkman did for listening music and audio contents? Will a Walkman effect ever arise from consuming ebooks?

The history of literacy and writing suggests we should look for ideas with no fear of crushing boundaries between sectors or disciplines: a revolution in reading habits can come unexpectedly, bringing about massive societal, economic and cultural changes like the Walkman did to personal listening habits.

Meanwhile, if the industry wants to turn the ebook format (but also many equivalent online applications, including blogs) towards a proper advertising medium, with clear and controlled audience metrics, times seem mature to make such an exercise worthy for everybody.

We do not need ebooks to upset readers, with subtle meddling into their privacy, with windows popping up at any eye movement and touchscreen actions, triggering scripts that suggest annotations to make, pages to share on Facebook, words to look for in Wikipedia and the like, in order to create artificial measures of the value of ebooks contents.

On the contrary, the platforms have all the tools needed to manage the accountability and analytics of display advertising while dealing with such portions of an ebook content, authorised by the authors and publishers, in the background: click throughs could be measured server side, without annoying readers, just focussing on sponsored pages, sections, banners or the like.

Amazon and other digital publishing platforms should step back from the invasion of the readers’ private reading space (ebooks and online). Instead, they should look forward to designing a wider and deeper role for themselves in the market, starting from what we know about the essence of reading and not from its contrary: do not annoy or interrupt the reader but to a minimum really indispensable to enjoy the medium.

Until a “Walkman effect” reshapes the notion of reading in different directions, it seems to me we should look at how to make ebooks more and more profitable for the time being, no matter if they are actually read on the screen for entertainment, just scanned once in a while for reference reasons or for the pleasure and reassurance of having them in the pocket or searched through occasionally to seek answers.

There is plenty of writers from all walks of life (and I am one of those) who could not see more favourably the prospect of increasing their revenues from ebooks - as sales, as copyright royalties or as advertising royalties.

If ebooks are read or remain unread, this is really another matter.

References

(2001) Longo, B. La nuova editoria: mercato strumenti linguaggi del libro in Internet. Editrice Bibliografica.

(2011) Coiro, J. Talking About Reading as Thinking: Modeling the Hidden Complexities of Online Reading Comprehension. Theory Into Practice, 50:107–115. Retrieved May 26, 2020 from Ebsco (thanks to the British Library remote access service)

(2013) Ferris, J. Why the Brain Prefers Paper. Scientific American, Vol. 309, Issue 5, p48-53. Retrieved May 26, 2020 from Ebsco (thanks to the British Library remote access service)

(2019) Pew Research Center. One-in-five Americans now listen to audiobooks. Retrieved Retrieved May 26, 2020 from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/25/one-in-five-americans-now-listen-to-audiobooks/