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All change for books

Books may not survive in their current form as reading habits change in the digital age, an expert has warned.

Bill Bell, of the University’s School of Literatures, Languages and Culture, claims that devices such as iPads may lessen the appetite for longer novels as multi-media devices shorten readers’ attention spans.

As technological devices encourage a different style of reading, books may need to become easier to navigate with shorter chapters and more information links.

A different style of reading

Readers may also be less inclined to read texts straight through from start to finish and instead be diverted by links on screen.

Dr Bell joined historians and information technology experts to look at how these new forms are transforming the way in which people read.

The three-day conference in Edinburgh discussed how electronic books and media devices might influence the world of publishing.

Interest in old texts

But as well as changing the way people read new books, Bill Bell believes that electronic devices may prompt a revival of interest in hand-made and finely-produced texts.

Dr Bell says people are increasingly using technology to access familiar texts in new ways allowing readers to analyse textual patterns as well as revealing details not visible to the naked eye.

Dr Bill Bell, Director of the Centre for the History of the Book at the University said: “This increase in accessibility can only be a good thing for the future of the book. We are in the midst of a seismic shift in the format of the book and how people may read them.

Recent technological developments may result in exciting new forms of books as well as positive developments for established texts. But books have not always been what they are today. What we should be asking is not whether the book has a future but what is the next form that the book will take?

Dr Bill BellDirector, Centre for the History of the Book at the University