By Iman Ben Chaibah
My attachment and commitment to reading a book is highly correlated to whether or not I am reading it on kindle. Books that are only in print take a back seat sometimes as I can’t always carry them with me everywhere, especially when they are thick books, but when they are on my kindle, I can keep the kindle device in my handbag all the time, and even if I forgot, I can catch up on my phone while waiting for someone, or in a queue. But was I always this hooked to my kindle? And what might be holding people back from embracing the same?
I started reading on kindle since the second-generation kindle device came out in 2009. I thought this was a continued relationship with the device ever since, but a couple of years back my cousin reminded me of a time I had fallen of with kindle, a time I have blocked from my memory.
When I got my first kindle in 2009, those were the first few years of publishing on kindle, so the market of available books on kindle was very limited. Books were published in print first then sometime later it would maybe be available on kindle, as not all book publishers had the ability to, or interest in, publishing their books on kindle. This meant that the number of books I could read on kindle did not match the number of books I could read in a year, yet I was still fascinated by it.
A year later, the iPad came to the market, and as any geek like me would, of course I got one. I still remember when the late Steve Jobs announced the Apple iBooks and said, “We will stand on Amazon’s shoulders and go further.” My mind was blown! Then the kindle app for iPad would release so I figured okay, I don’t need my kindle device anymore as the iPad seems to be the appropriate alternative. I subscribed to a number of magazines on it, and got a few books too. But here is what I didn’t pay attention to: the main difference between the kindle device and an iPad is the screen. On one hand, the kindle came with a screen technology called “the eInk,” which makes the screen feel like a book page, soft on the eye without the light and glaring. And the best part is there is no suffering from light’s reflection that you have to adjust the brightness to be able to see, making it a perfect beach companion. On the other hand, using an iPad meant more screen time, and to me, more screen time meant more headaches and bothersome screen light glaring into my eyes. And gradually with time, the number of minutes I spent on the iPad kept decreasing because it was a bothersome experience. Eventually, I reverted back completely to print books.
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Anyone who asked me afterwards about digital books or kindle I used to say, “I tried it and it wasn’t for me.” The line between the kindle and the iPad experiences was blurred to me. Between the lacking collection of books being sold on kindle at the time, the fact that I had to use my US address to reach the expanded market (a technical workaround that I realized early on to get better access to more books than what was available on the limited market of MENA region) and the bothersome glaring effect of the iPad screen, I ended up grouping the digital reading experience in one big box, and quitting it altogether.
It was not until 2015, during a casual conversation with my cousin, when she was showing me her kindle that she loved, and I was amused by the change in it and the large collection of books in it, that I was interested in the digital reading experience again. With some research I found out that by then, any new book being published is almost always released in print and kindle together, which meant that I was not left waiting at the publishers’ mercy to release it on kindle. Being reminded again by how the eInk screen of the kindle device was so light on the eyes and not headache triggering, was reassuring to me.
So, I decided that I would again try the kindle experience, and that was the beginning of a new world I never knew of. I moved from a 12-books-a-year reading rhythm to a 40 and 50 books a year rhythm. I would finish one book, and from the comfort of my home, I would instantly buy the next book (that might not have been available in our bookstores yet or ever) for a fraction of the price I would have paid for the print book. I could read for hours and hours on my kindle without it triggering any headache thanks to the comfortable kindle screen technology. The slim device fitted into my handbag anywhere I went, and my travel suitcase thanked me as it finally fit more clothes for my trips without having to endure the big books. I packed on every trip in fear of running out of material to read. My love for reading and ability to read more has exponentially grown with my kindle the second time around, a thing I wouldn’t have imagined the first time around with that first experience being blurred with the iPad screen effect and the poor market books availability at the time.
Flash forward to today, anything I read is on kindle, at least when it comes to the English books that I read. Even if I was seduced by the beauty of the print book, which I admit can be very alluring, I start reading a small part of it from the print version, then I realize the inconvenience, and end up buying another copy, but this time a kindle so I can read it better. I sometimes even get the print copy for its photographic effect and for vanity reasons, but I’m well aware that it’s more of a nostalgic thing than an actual preference or practicality.
The real problem for me comes with reading Arabic books on my kindle. There is a limited number of book publishers who have been granted access to publish kindle books and have them available to the worldwide market, which has resulted in a limited number of Arabic books available on kindle, and in many instances, they are released digitally much after the print release- a Déjà vu of my first time around with kindle! So when Arabic readers tell me they prefer print books or they have hated the digital experience and so on, what I see is a combination of factors: limited market books availability combined with blurred lines between the smart phone and tablet reading experience and the pure eInk (kindle) device experience. And no matter how much I might try to defend the kindle, I personally believe those are the reasons that withhold us unconsciously from embracing the digital reading experience in Arabic. Unless you have the proper market offering of all books as soon as they get published, and unless you invest in the actual eInk device instead of reading on your smart phone or tablet, you will not really have the immersive experience that will get you hooked up.
Am I saying the digital books will overtake the print one day? No. Am I saying Arabic books readers will never migrate to digital books? Also, no. But what I have learned is that often what withholds us from something is not our hate to it as we might think, but perhaps never experiencing the full convenience of it, and we have especially not been able to enjoy the full convenience of having the vast and continuously growing works of Arabic books in digital formats.
Iman Ben Chaibah started Sail Magazine in 2010 and Sail Publishing in 2014. She is currently the Vice President of the Emiratis Publishers Association Board. Iman received the UAE’s Young Digital Publisher Entrepreneur Award by The British Council, received the Young Entrepreneur Award from Startup Businesses magazine, and received the Arab Woman Award in Literature. Iman has also completed the Magazine Publishing Course in Yale University and was a fellow in the Rosalynn Carter Journalism Fellowship in Mental Health.
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