Are reader apps shaping a new generation of readers?

According to a recent study, of 1,500 adults, by The Book Trust36% [of those asked] often start a book but get bored and 35% cannot find the time to read.’ Thanks to the abundance of different social media platforms available at your fingertips, the world of digital publishing is having to evolve to accommodate the busy reader. Which begs the question ‘So how do you sell books to somebody who doesn’t normally read? […] Make them shorter, cheaper, more plot-driven and more widely available’.

Nowadays the book itself is seen as more of an object of nostalgia. Due to a society where information is processed rapidly publishers have to create new ways for their consumer to read with as little effort on their part as possible. This emergence of convenience first resulted in the development of the eBook on a tablet or Kindle, however even now they are becoming outdated. Today publishers are utilising the convenience of the smartphone to create reader apps, on which literature can be published and read, without the need to carry round a large tablet or even selection of books. But what are reading apps, and what do they mean for the future of digital publishing?


How did we start reading digitally?

reader apps bookshelf.png  Firstly, let’s look at the beginnings of digital reading. In 2007, Amazon revolutionised publishing and the way we read with its release of the Kindle. The corporate mega-giant promised us an e-reader, a digital book that provided convenience and ease of reading anywhere you could imagine. So great was the need for this reading platform that it resulted in the Kindle being sold out within the first 5 hours of it being available to order and it still continued to be almost impossible to order due to its high demand for another 5 months. However, despite this initial demand, e-readers such as the Kindle have become a thing of the past. Although e-readers may have introduced consumers to a way of reading digitally the future of digital publishing arguably lies firmly in the device we all hold in our hands, the smartphone. Amazon’s strongest selling point with the Kindle was the fact that it offered a way to read your favourite texts anywhere. However, although the e-reader is more convenient than carrying around 10 or so books for whenever you feel the need to read when out and about, surely it is more convenient for us to read on a device that we already carry around, our mobile phones?  This is where publishers turned to smartphone reading apps in order to keep their customers, the busy readers.


But what’s the difference between e-readers and reading apps?

In essence e-readers are a portable tablet or device that contains a library, specifically curated by the reader. This platform allows your consumer to read anywhere, given they have the device present, change font and typography size and thus make the reading experience easier and more comfortable for their individual needs. However, the devices can be clunky. E-readers have come under fire from critics for being outdated as why is it necessary to carry around a separate device? Yes it is more convenient than a physical library itself, but not as convenient as a phone. That’s why publishers turned to reading apps. In theory they work in a similar way to eBook readers as a library is available on a portable device, however the consumer doesn’t need to buy or carry around an extra device as these apps are available to download directly to your phone.


Spritz: The extreme reading app experience

The RSVP method changes word postioning in order for ease of read

Mobile reading apps aren’t necessarily all about reading on a small screen, personalising the size and typography of the text or having the ability to click on URL links. The future of digital publishing has expanded to meet the needs of the commuting mobile reader, and it has resulted in different types of reading apps themselves. One of the most extreme versions of reading apps that encompasses the whole need for speed and convenience is Spritz.  This new app uses Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) where ‘words are displayed either left-aligned or centred.’ RSVP has been adapted by publishers on digital publishing platforms, like Spritz, to increase the speed in which a piece can be read.  This app takes RSVP and uses this particular alignment of words to allow the reader’s brain to distinguish the full word or sentence from just parts of the word itself. Publishers have applied this technique to an app for Android and iOS to create a sensation of speed reading on any E-pub literature. In its purest essence Spritz allows the reader to read a piece of text on a mobile screen at a faster pace than their brains would be able to comprehend if the words were merely on paper, or even laid out in a traditional book style on an E-reader.


But why do we need to speed read on reading apps?

What is wrong with traditional digital publishing that just replicates a book on a digital platform? In essence publishers and authors have accepted the idea that ‘readers today have neither the time nor the capacity to reading especially long works of fiction.’ In a way Spritz solves this problem. Not only does it provide a way of reading that ensures that it is easier to read at speed, but also it is available on your smartphone for ease of access, creating reading as ‘to some, merely an app, on par with Angry Birds’.

However, how viable is this often trivialised digital reading platform for the general reader, rather than just the commuter or business professional? Guardian writer Rob Boffard took on the challenge of reading the lengthy Man Booker Prize winning novel, To Rise at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, which, ‘at 110,000 words or so, it’s not particularly lengthy, but given that the average adult reader clocks in at between 250 and 300 words per minute (according to a 2012 study), it would still take around six hours to finish.’ With the speed reading app Boffard could, in theory read and more importantly comprehend the story within 3 hours. Although this may seem unnecessary this speed of reading and greater comprehension that Spritz allows could revolutionise the way we read. Students could read lengthy text heavy literature on the bus using just their mobile phones. What’s more Boffard illustrated that Spritz works beautifully’ because it uses scientific visual recognition to ensure that the reader understands all the words on the page, and thus less time is lost compared to reading leisurely on a Kindle.

However, despite these fast-paced and convenient benefits to this particular reading app, there are drawbacks. Arguably, Spritz has an incredibly niche and restricted audience as a digital publishing platform. Spritz demands complete concentration as the words flash on the screen meaning that Boffard ended his experience in ‘agony […] My eyes were aching […] fingers had locked, claw-like, around my phone. And although I tried to take breaks, my neck was starting to ask very pointed questions about why I was putting it through this.’ Although the mobile app allowed the lengthy novel to be finished in 4 hours and 11 minutes the intense dedication it took to read the book was far from a pleasurable experience.

So, is Spritz itself as a mobile app going to overshadow e-readers as a reading platform? In short, no. Spritz provides a unique reading experience for a niche type of audience with a specific purpose, reading quickly. As Bofford explains in his analogy ‘At the moment, reading a novel on Spritz is like riding a unicycle from Shepherd’s Bush to Brick Lane. You can do it, but there are far more pleasant and logical ways to get there.’ Although Spritz and other mobile reading apps allow you to read more easily than on an e-reader and is more portable than carrying around a book it is highly unlikely that it would be used to read for pleasure as it gives the reader no opportunity to linger over sentence constructions and imagery, rather provides a tool for absorbing literature quickly.


So, are reader apps shaping a new generation of reader, or merely accommodating a growing consumer base?

All in all mobile apps cannot be ignored in the future of digital publishing. As long as smartphones are in a reader’s hand they will have the ability to act as a viable publishing platform. Rather than reader apps creating a new generation of readers that read on their mobiles, reading apps are actually allowing publishers to accommodate the already growing consumer group that have a need for a platform that is convenient.

However, are apps like Spritz arguably just an over exaggerated form of the convenience and speed that mobile readers want? It would be ignorant to ignore the possibility that reading apps will most likely over take e-readers as the next platform in digital publishing as they provide better ease of reading and are more convenient to the commuting reader. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that e-readers will go extinct, as much the same way that the nostalgia of hardback books didn’t disappear once the Kindle was launched. Rather these new developments in speed reading and mobile apps provide a platform for a specific type of reader to read a specific genre of literature. Evidently, reading will not be lost in a fast paced evolving world as ‘76% say that reading improves their life, and the same number says it helps to make them feel good.’, thus reading for pleasure and platforms that allow leisurely reading will always be an important consideration in digital publishing. Nevertheless, mobile apps provide an interesting new way of reading that publishers are taking full advantage of in the literature they publish on this platform and the writers they seek out.


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