How many hours a day would you say you spend behind a screen? Before you answer, really think about your day. How many times did you check your social media account(s) today? What about your favorite news app? Did you check your weather app (or website) before you left the house today? How many times did you pick up your phone/tablet to check your notifications? Does your 9-to-5 live and die behind a computer screen?
I counted 10 hours, and I’m likely missing about an hour in there somewhere. Around the same time as this “discovery” (it’s not as if I’m unaware of this habit, but putting a number on it is a significant bummer), I began to experience some troubling, migraine-like symptoms. I medicated to no avail, and upon further investigation, I found that I was experiencing eye fatigue (!) due to the blue light emitted by digital screens.
In mid-July, Jim Milliot published an article in Publisher’s Weekly relating the decline of e-book sales to a phenomenon called “digital fatigue”—a different kind of fatigue than mine to be sure, but fatigue nonetheless.
Since 2014, e-book sales and readership have experienced slight ups and downs. Various sources reported a decline in e-book sales and readership from 2014 to 2015, while Pew Research Center reports e-book readership experienced small growth from 2015 to 2016 (28% in 2014, 27% in 2015, and back to 28% in 2016). In addition to readership, the American Association of Publishers found a decline in trade e-book sales from 2014 to 2015; however, in contrast to the slight growth in readership from 2015-2016, the Codex Group found a decline in total e-book sales from 2015-2016.
Most interesting to me is the decline of overall e-book sales. Codex surveyed 4,992 book buyers in April 2016 to construct a narrative: why the drop in sales? The short answer: buyers want to spend less time on their devices. Codex president Peter Hildick-Smith believes that because the digital presentation of the long-form reading experience has not delivered on quality enough to replace print books could be to blame, but more important is the digital fatigue phenomenon. Codex surveys show that the majority of e-book purchases come from dedicated e-book readers, even though a much smaller percentage of book buyers own e-readers. The numbers show that even though these book buyers have a great many options to purchase and read e-books on various devices, they choose not to do so. Of these book buyers, there is also want to spend less time on their devices.
The Codex survey … found that though book buyers stated they spent almost five hours of daily personal time on screens, … [some book buyers] want to spend less time on their digital devices. … Overall, 14% of book buyers said they are now reading fewer ebooks than when they started reading books in the format, and 59% percent of those who said they are reading fewer ebooks cited a preference for print as the main reason for switching back to physical books.
While e-books experience a decline, Pew reports that print books are experiencing growth. Hildick-Smith’s notion may be right on the nose—”Since consumers almost always have the option to read books in physical formats, they are indicating a preference to return to print”—this could be the reason for the uptick in print book sales.
In a mid-October Publisher’s Weekly article, Alexander Weinstein’s response to the digital fatigue phenomenon particularly resonates with me: “we all seem to be getting digitally exhausted these days,” he says. “There are emails to check, Facebook posts to like, Instagram photos to upload, Tinder and Grinder profiles to swipe, emojis to learn, and endless text messages.” Weinstein goes on to say that maybe it isn’t the want to return to print books and cut down device time, but a lack of desire to read in general.
I’m going to remain optimistic (Pew’s research allows me that small luxury) and offer my own evaluation: could it be that this digital fatigue could be related to my own experience of eye fatigue? If print books “remain much more popular than digital formats,” and e-book sales are declining, can we connect the dots and assume that people still want to read books, but are perhaps returning to print to enjoy their book reading? Prolonged exposure to blue light has health risks, after all.
I’d like to think I’m not alone in this world, and Amazon has proven I’m very clearly not the only purchaser of Comfortable Computer Readers Glasses to filter out blue light, so I’m going to bet I’m not the only one who is trying to spend less of my unwinding time behind a screen and maybe behind a good old fashioned print book.
Jim Milliot. “As E-book Sales Decline, Digital Fatigue Grows.” Publisher’s Weekly. Web.
“Blue Light Has a Dark Side.” Harvard Health Publications: Harvard Medical School. Web.
Perrin, Andrew. “Book Reading 2016.” Pew Research Center. Web.
St. Peter, Elaine. “E-Readers Foil Good Night’s Sleep.” Harvard Medical School. Web.
Weinstein, Alexander. “Who Will Save Us From Our Screens?” Publisher’s Weekly. Web.