The rise of e-book checkouts at libraries made news during the pandemic, as did the rise of e-book sales. Some enthusiastic writers suggested that this was the future–the increase in e-book consumption was clearly some sort of trend that ought to be celebrated, especially in terms of increased library circulation. The obvious counter to this argument is, of course, that readers often had no choice but to read e-books. Physical stores and libraries were closed. If people wanted to read–and many did–they probably had to get an e-book (or else have a physical book shipped from an online retailer). But will this change last?
That e-book checkouts and sales rose during the pandemic is no surprise. Nor is it a surprise that many people reported reading more, since they had more time to do so, after losing jobs or commute time, or being unable to participate in their usual leisure activities. Book Riot’s July 2021 Pandemic Reading Habits survey of 5,117 people, for instance, shows that 58.4% of respondents said they are reading more. These news articles are not particularly interesting because they seem only natural. What will be interesting is whether or not these changes will be permanent.
For instance, e-book checkouts and sales are up currently because people cannot access physical books. But is this a temporary shift, made only until physical books are made more available by the reopening of bookstores and libraries? Or did the forced change really introduce e-books to a new group of readers who will remain avid e-book users? The articles celebrating the rise of e-book readership so far do not seem to address these questions, but simply to assume that increased numbers means all these new readers are here to stay.
In the same vein, reading is up because people have more free time. However, once travel locations, malls, movie theatres, and so forth open up again, will people still dedicate their leisure time to reading? Will sitting down with a good book have rekindled an old love? Or will people put the books down as soon as they have other, more attractive options available? Once again, the surveys do not delve into whether readers see their new habits as temporary or not.
So what do you think? Have your reading habits changed during the pandemic? If they have, do you see the changes as better? Do you intend to keep them?