Contribution of Reading studies to contemporary publishing industry by Brigitte Ouvry-Vial

With the digital revolution, we are witnessing today simultaneous transformations in the ways that texts are produced, distributed and experienced by readers. As reading remains crucial in fostering a responsible citizenry, and key to educational attainment, cultural enrichment and leisure, these developments have important consequences for literacy and access to culture across Europe, raising also political and socio-economic questions.

Public reports show that information and communication technologies (ICTs) challenge traditional reading and learning habits in ways that lead to social divisions. As people read less printed material, a socio-economic and generational gap emerges between digital natives with limited attention spans and critical reading-skills, and expert readers who combine traditional and digital reading.

Europe wields immense cultural influence through its educated readership, international stature of its publishing industry and an editorial diversity largely supported by fixed book prices. But new devices (audiobooks, e-books, tablets,) are reshaping the roles of authors and publishers inspiring new commercial strategies and creating new experiences for readers, who are confronted with texts in multiple versions and formats.

As anticipated by Donald McKenzie in Bibliography and the sociology of texts (Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 70-71), a 1984 founding book for both historical and contemporary Book and Reading studies at large, the digital revolution entices an era and cultural literacy in which “ we do not buy the book so much as the time in which to read it. With new forms of text, we buy, in bulk, the reading, viewing, or listening time in the form of an entrance fee to the cinema, a hiring fee for the disc or video {…}, or we pay an access fee for the information in a data bank.”

Indeed, despite assumptions that “reading is both an unnatural, non-innate, and highly artificial activity of the mind-brain” (A. M Jacobs, “Towards a neurocognitive poetics model of literary reading”, 2014), contemporary cultural and social practices seem to highlight a renewed definition of reading beyond its traditional one of acquired text and even image reading proficiency. MiladDoueihi (The digital Culture, 2008) and in a recent oral address (Université du Maine, Le Mans, May 2015) emphasizes “a powerful reading culture” that encompasses natural activities of the mind-brain (looking around, viewing, listening, playing..) that were not traditionally seen as “reading” and currently stem from the model and evolutions of games.

So one can see how the new paradigm of reading as a time related and customized activity resorting to multiple visible matter rather than purposefully written material, and implying a variety of reading practitioners, triggers an entirely new set of questions and potential endeavours for publishing industries of today. Eager to understand the market and the characteristics of their customers, they might benefit from the results which the whole range of research on publishing, reading and readership is able to provide about the buyers social (families, roles, status) characteristics and the cultural circumstances that surround them (e.g. as displayed in J. Travnicek surveys presented in Reading Bohemia, Akropolis, Prague, 2015);as well as about theireconomic, technological, political circumstances and their response to the overall marketing mix made available by publishers (as developed in A. Baverstock fifth edition of How to market books, Routledge, 2015).

                                                          Brigitte Ouvry-Vial, Université du Maine, France


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