[photopress:SONY_Reader_E_Ink.jpg,full,alignright]There is a school of thought that the future for reading lies with digital reading machines. None has yet appeared that satisfies every need — the Sony Reader is very close — but it will happen.
Now a survey conducted by the Chinese Institute of Publishing Science (CIPS) shows that the number of Chinese reading books has decreased sharply since 1999, but the number of those turning to the Internet to read has soared sevenfold in the same period.
A series of studies conducted by the institute between 1999 and 2006 found that only 48.7% of Chinese read at least one book in 2005, down from 60.4% in 1999.
Wu Shulin, vice-minister of the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP), told a forum on video and electronic products in Shanghai that the number of online readers has doubled every year since 1999. He said, ‘”The development of digital technology and the Internet has changed people’s reading habits.’
Chinese read about 4.5 books every year on average, far fewer than the 50 books read by Americans in a year. Lack of free time amid fast-paced modern lifestyles was the main reason given by most of the respondents for not reading many books.
Researchers also found that the culture of reading has declined, with 45.9% of young respondents aged 18 to 19 saying they are not in the habit of reading. Literature and publishing experts have voiced their concern about the decline of reading in China as they have about the same situation all over the world.
Huang Guorong, deputy secretary-general of the China Publication Association, told China Youth Daily that online reading materials are mainly for fun and fail to educate people in the same way that books do. A group of National People’s Congress deputies even put forward a motion last month for a National Reading Day to promote people’s awareness.
It could be argued that they have the wrong end of the stick. What is needed is a very simple, inexpensive reading machine which can be loaded up with assorted texts. Students especially have difficulty accessing textbooks that would improve their education. The simple answer is the digitization of books and the development of an ultra-cheap, ultra-portable reading device. It can be done and if any nation can do it that nation is China.
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