As the e-book phenomenon continues its rise, Hiba Mir looks at the trend, and looks at what this phenomenon is doing to literature.


ebookTechnology is always on the rise, and this has been seen in literature too in recent years, with the rise of the e-book. They have caused controversy since their inception for various reasons, and have invariably been seen as threats to all kinds of established norms.

Amazon were at the fore in the publishing industry, with its e-book, the Kindle device being sold out within hours in 2007. The Kindle used e-ink technology, that allowed their Kindle devices to reflect like normal paper, and it wouldn’t require any harsh backlight like on your smartphone or computer. Sony had attempted to market a similar device three years prior, but it was the Kindle that really took off. Amazon started selling e-books, and with it began a new era. Tablets and now smartphones can also support e-books using apps such as Google Books or the Kindle app, so you can carry your mini-library anywhere you go.

The e-book has caused more controversy than expected. Book-fanatics were up in arms over removing the most sacred part of the reading ritual: the book. The feel, the trips to the book shop or library, visible covers and worst of all, the smell and feel of a book, all thrown away for a slim, attractive, oversized smartphone.

Many book fanatics were horrified, yet after the success of the Kindle in 2007, it has become a major part of the literary market, whether people like it or not. They are not going away – so what is most important is addressing what the effects of the e-book have been, and whether the publishing industry has been negatively affected by this new form.

There’s been a decrease in general in sales of about 40 per cent in Ireland for books. However this is not necessarily because of the e-book, which does not go beyond a 15 per cent market share. There is clearly a problem, but can the e-book be blamed? Transworld Ireland, a division of Penguin Random House in the UK, has noted this decrease to be a ‘result of the recession, poor market conditions and competition from other leisure activities and other cultural, entertainment and information forms such as gaming, phone usage, etc.’.

The market for the e-book has been rapidly increasing, but it hasn’t seen the demise of books. The decrease in sales for books has finally levelled off.

Publishing houses have embraced the digital age instead of hiding from it. Penguin Random House (PRH) have published all of their books as e-books, unless there was mutual consent between the author and the company not to. This new age, PRH notes, “has allowed for a new type of discoverability for books through social media websites. It’s the equivalent of word of mouth, which has always been an important way for readers to discover new books and writers.”

Publishing houses and libraries are taking a positive approach towards the increase in digital media. It’s been eight years since the e-book began to truly take off, and in this time, several concerns have been raised. One of these is how much information can somebody retain from a screen? A 2014 study says that information is retained better when read from a page. For the study, fifty people were given a twenty-eight page short story by Elizabeth George. Half of the group read it in paper, and the others through an e-book. The group who read the story on an e-book did significantly worse in remembering the order of events. This aligns with a Norwegian paper published in 2013, where students sat a comprehension test after reading some material in print or in PDF, and the digital readers did worse again.

Another question is whether e-books help the environment. This question is not easily answered, as it requires a life-cycle study of the book’s journey compared to the e-book’s journey. The book’s carbon footprint ends as soon as it is published, and it can be recycled afterwards, or re-used. The e-book needs to be recharged constantly after it goes through an industrial manufacturing process in production, and when you throw it out to buy a new and updated version, it is a little more complicated than the humble paper book to recycle.

The rise of the e-book shows a shift in the way writing gets published, however it should not be seen as something to fear. It is simply a small, growing niche of the literary world. While many may prefer to stick to print books due to the experience and nostalgia associated with them, for others the space-saving and convenience of the Kindle are too great to deny. Much like how iTunes haven’t replaced CDs or how video games haven’t replaced board games, the paper book and the e-book can easily co-exist, allowing greater choice for the reader.