Trees, books and coffee ‒ a beautiful way to celebrate world book day on William Shakespeare’s birthday, but every day for bibliophiles. Denis Hurley Centre Street Lit book vendor Eric Makalo with Natasha Dadoo of Gourmet Coffee sell their wares daily at the Visitors’ Centre at Durban Botanic Garden. Picture: ILLA THOMPSON
Trees, books and coffee ‒ a beautiful way to celebrate world book day on William Shakespeare’s birthday, but every day for bibliophiles. Denis Hurley Centre Street Lit book vendor Eric Makalo with Natasha Dadoo of Gourmet Coffee sell their wares daily at the Visitors’ Centre at Durban Botanic Garden. Picture: ILLA THOMPSON

Huge spike in sales of printed books

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Apr 24, 2021

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Durban - Lockdown has seen a phenomenal rise in the sale of printed books, with US print book sales up by 82% and more than 200 million print books sold in the UK.

As the world retreated from the Covid-19 virus and locked in with technology, people turned to the printed book to curl up on the couch with as a welcome escape.

This week, co-founder of the Durban Book Fair and Booksellers of Mzansi, Kiru Naidoo, said he was not surprised by the figures because "books in ink are making a huge comeback".

Before lockdown, street book selling by homeless people was a successful project under the Denis Hurley Street Lit project. Naidoo said this had now expanded to people who had become unemployed by the pandemic and were looking for a way to make a living ‒ and the books continue to fly off the shelves.

"Hundreds of pre-loved titles are lapped up each week, earning people without formal jobs a dignified living. It's great for the environment too, as we recycle books from one hand to another," said Naidoo.

This week Pamsa (Paper Manufacturers Association of SA) said in a release that the predicted demise of the printed book had not come to pass and that reading patterns had shifted dramatically in the last year.

"The pandemic, it seems, was good for book sales with more than 200 million books sold in the UK, the first time since 2012 that number has been exceeded. In the US, printed book sales amounted to just over 750 million units last year, marking growth of 82%, the highest year on year increase since 2010,“ the release said.

With people experiencing fatigue and burnout because of interminable “screen time“ ‒ be it on laptops, phones or TV screens ‒ and the lines between home and work becoming ever more blurred, turning back to printed books had been seen as a form of release and relaxation.

Pamsa communications manager Samantha Choles said: "The feeling or scent of a 'real book' aside, paper is the perfect panacea for the digital overload.“

She said countless research papers and numerous studies around comprehension and brain function had shown that ”paper and ink seem to eclipse their electronic counterparts“.

Founder of NGO Early Inspiration and ECD (Early Childhood Development) specialist Dr Lauren Stretch said contact with books, such as turning the pages, created a greater feeling of engagement with the medium as opposed to holding a device or tablet.

According to website Brainfacts.org, scientists have found that reading long, complex texts are best read in print for proper comprehension.

Literacy professor Anne Mangen, from the University of Stavanger, Norway, said: "Print reading is kind of like meditation, focusing our attention on something still. And it's a whole different kind of immersion than responding to digital stimuli. I think it's healthy for us as human beings to sit down with something that doesn’t move, ping or call on our attention."

Known as the “shallowing hypothesis”, constant exposure to fast-paced digital media trains the brain to process information more rapidly, but it does so less thoroughly.

Lauren Singer-Trakhman, who studies reading comprehension at the University of Maryland, said of digital content: "It's one of the best parts of our digital world, everything at our fingertips and we can get headlines in a second ‒ but it may also be one of the pitfalls.

“Everything is so quick and accessible that we may not be truly digesting what we read any more."

In a 2016 study, Singer-Trakhman examined undergraduates’ comprehension after reading print and digital copies of articles, finding that students missed details when reading on screens.

To retain on-screen text information, Singer Trakhman and Mangen suggest slowing down and hand writing required details, as research has shown while typing works, handwriting is likely to be a superior memory tool.

And as children's author, Julia Donaldson, who famously refused to have an e-book version of her best-selling The Gruffalo, said: "They said 'look you can press buttons and do this and that' and they showed me the page where Alice's neck gets longer. I thought, well, if the child's doing that, they aren’t going to be listening or reading."

  • Durban Book Fair is doing a free pop-up event at the Hyper by the Sea today from 10.30 until 2pm, launching the books of five authors, and Street Lit vendors Richard Nzima and Khanyisile Cele will be there. Vendors can also be found at Berea Centre, Denis Hurley Centre, the pop-up library outside the Workshop and KZNSA Gallery.

The Independent on Saturday

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