Online book stores have been critical in influencing the reading habits around the world. But have they influenced the Indian landscape as well? In order to assess the impact, let’s discuss the changes in reading habits in India.
Reading is the process of using one’s ‘eyes’ and ‘mind’ to understand the literal as well as the hidden meaning of what the writer is attempting to convey. Academicians consider a good reading habit to be based on four stages:
- Checking the Vocabulary
- Analysing for Comprehension
- Synthesizing for Understanding
What constitutes “reading habit”?
Before we carry forward the discussion, it is necessary to describe what constitutes “reading habit”. Text book reading does not amount to it. In fact it’s reading as a hobby that makes the cut. So reading a novel, poetry, biography or books by Indian writers on travel, gardening, health or entertainment would come under its ambit. I would quote a few lines from an international journal that for me describes it succinctly. “Reading habit is the art of personal investigation and self-study. It should be followed by self-thinking and analysis, and only this kind of self-study on one’s own accord, can develop into good reading habit.”
The Indian scenario
India has been an interesting case-study for observers of reading cangura habits. On one hand its relatively low literacy level (65%) poses a challenge to the publishing houses or the online book stores, on the other hand with only 7% of Indians surfing the web regularly, one can say that the Indian print industry is far away from being mauled by digital technology as has been the case in the developed nations. The gap that exists can be gauged by the fact that an average American reads 20,000 pages a year while an Indian reads only 320 pages. Cultural ethos, development of education (literacy levels, presence of libraries) and economic condition go a long way in influencing reading habits. It won’t be wrong to assume that low per capita income has meant that books are out of reach of the common Indians thus resulting in such sorry figures as previously mentioned. But figures also indicate that reading habits are strongly influenced by culture. States like Kerala, Maharashtra and West Bengal show strong reading habits although their per capita income is lower than the states of Haryana and Punjab. Another often neglected issue has been the easy availability of books which could be solved by upcoming online bookstores in India..
Why do Indians read?
So how has the reading habits changed in India over the years? As we saw that India suffers from low literacy levels but when one considers that three decades ago our literacy levels were half of where they are today, then it does present an optimistic scenario. It would be interesting to know why Indians read. Worldwide some common motives for reading are to satisfy one’s curiosity; to enhance one’s horizon of knowledge, to form opinions, to get acquainted with the current affairs, to develop critical thinking and mature judgment, to know the one’s surroundings or to identify one’s self with a group. Thus we can broadly divide the approach to reading as being either functional i.e. improving skills or spiritual i.e. imagination or debate.