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Reading into the future

By Annie Cheung and Zhang Jing | China Daily | Updated: 2014-07-23 07:19

The Hong Kong Book Fair hosts a range of literary and cultural events. This year the focus was on high-tech trends, as paper books give way to e-readers and cellphones. Annie Cheung and Zhang Jing report from Hong Kong.

With one simple scan, teacher Gladys Lau fed into her handset information about an exhibition featuring Hong Kong's literature and writers at the Hong Kong Book Fair, which was held from July 16 to 22.

Now, Lau is ready to share the material with her students online.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the largest annual literary event in town was more than just a platform to go on a book buying spree. It also presented a smorgasbord of cultural activities - seminars by renowned writers, art gallery exhibitions and storytelling sessions for children, to name a few.

What's more, it added more digital elements, such as putting QR codes beside exhibits, to encourage visitors to read information in detail using their cellphones or tablet computers, despite worries that increasing use of electronic products is posing a threat to traditional reading.

"It is inevitable. Nowadays young people are too used to managing their daily tasks with gadgets," Lau says.

Lau, a Chinese literature teacher at a secondary school in Kwai Ching district, says electronic and traditional reading are complementary to each other, with the former helping readers obtain a vast amount of information at a time, while the latter leads to more in-depth information.

A survey conducted by the Youth Research Center of Hong Kong Youth Federation revealed a glimpse of the change in reading habits among young people.

Of the 522 interviewees, aged between 10 and 24, a majority were reading digitally, with 75 percent of them reading on cellphones, while the second most commonly used medium was desktop computers, followed by tablets. Almost half of the interviewees said they took part in e-reading because it was convenient.

The survey also showed that each reader spent an average 86 minutes per day on e-reading. The largest percentage of interviewees found "free download" the most appealing feature of digital reading.

But interestingly, printed material was the most popular reading medium among the young readers, with close to 40 percent voting for it, while 37 percent preferred reading through cellphones.

Chan Shui-ching, head of the youth research center, says that while rapid development of digital technology, which allows faster and more convenient downloads of electronic materials, can enrich the reading experience, young people should be prudent when choosing e-reading material and avoid unhealthy choices.

"It is not a matter of choosing from electronic books or printed books," says Ngan Shun-kau, editorial consultant of Cosmos Books, a major publisher in Hong Kong. But cellphones, Facebook, Twitter and the like are occupying a lot of young people's time, and they are becoming more prone to read in a "fast and shallow way", he adds.

Besides having an impact on people's reading habits, digital activities are also to blame for the drop in sales of printed books. Last year, some exhibitors of the book fair complained about the lower-than-expected sales growth - down to about 2 percent from a double-digit figure recorded in 2013.

"E-reading is irresistible. It's not a strike, but a transformation", which, business development general manager Terence Leung of Sino United Publishing Limited in Hong Kong says, came with the development of technology and the change in consumer patterns. "With Wi-Fi, (customers) can buy e-books and get samples. It can be done at home and bookshops."

The flagship store of Hong Kong Joint Publishing, a member of Sino United, is testing the waters. Customers can use free Wi-Fi provided by the shop to read e-books for free, including books that are not yet available in print.

"It is now a transition period and printed books are still the mainstream," Leung says. Though e-reading in Hong Kong is at a preliminary stage, he is sanguine about the future of the e-book market.

Ngan, however, suggests that unlike Western countries where people reply more on online purchasing because of geographic reasons, Hong Kong is a convenient place where readers can easily find a bookshop in the vicinity of their home or workplace.

He agrees that the decline of sales volume is a plight facing all print media, and because of the irresistible trend of digital reading, there is a need to develop e-books. But he does not think it is the right time to move into high gear, because printed books are still irreplaceable.


 Reading into the future

Readers sift through books at the Hong Kong Book Fair. Provided to China Daily


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