With the advent of Industry 4.0, there are no limits to the options available for consumers. Is this a good thing, though? Especially for writers and readers? Is there still a need for books, journals, newspapers and magazines? The stories below show that we still need physical reading material to make life worth living.

Disaster, luxury and skills
Here’s what happened when I started writing for the papers. Delighted to see my words in print, I cut that page out and glued it into a scrapbook. As the number of my published articles increased, so did the space in this scrapbook. When I mentioned this to the editor, she told me off and said I should ‘just keep the links and go digital.’

I am glad I didn’t listen to her. Instead, I bought more scrapbooks and kept physical copies of every single one of the 280-odd articles that were published. You see, in less than three months after the first scrapbook was full of my articles, the newspapers changed the design of their website. All the links to the stories I wrote for the papers were gone. If I had kept only the digital links, it would be as though I never wrote for the papers at all.

My desire to read things in print was reinforced when, last year, I bought a copy of the New Yorker. In it, there’s a story by Hanna Beech about Aung Sun Suu Kyi called ‘The Shame of Myanmar’s Heroine’. It was such luxury to read this article over a cup of coffee. I enjoyed the writing and learnt something new. Later, during a discussion with a friend, I encouraged her to buy a copy of the magazine. I wanted her to read how Aung San Suu Kyi stayed true to the principles of non-violence. From memory, I said, “Look at page 29 in the first column.”

Later, it occurred to me that had I sent the online link, I couldn’t have told her exactly where to look. I would probably have said something simple like, “Scroll down the page.”

Here’s what I know – when I read stuff on paper, I read slowly. There is a method to my reading which I cannot put into words. But I retain the information better and I am sure that there is some scientific explanation for it. Perhaps, the words I’m looking for are best enunciated by Amata Luphaiboon, an architect in Thailand. He says, “Websites don’t provide the depth that books can. With the printed product, you can compare plans and look at the actual built project on the page. I don’t think web readers can develop their analytical skills in architecture as well as those who read actual books.” 1

It’s in the word
With actual books, it’s there in the very first phrase you’d say such as, ‘I picked up a book in the store,’ or ‘I picked up a trashy novel in the airport bookstore.’ No one I know says, ‘I picked up a tablet.’ Magazines, books, journals and other reading materials are something solid. Remember the slightly rough texture of a page? Or running your fingers across the embossed words of the title on the dust jacket?

Would you say the same of a tablet? Be honest. Have you ever run your fingers across the cover design of the novels you’ve read on a computer screen? Would you ever smell the screen to inhale the smell of a page? Chances are if you can smell something off a screen, it’s just plain filthy.

More than physical
That said, there is one benefit to reading eBooks that remains undisputed. With an eReader, you can store an infinite number of books at a fraction of the cost. I was at a launch of a book one time and the author was not particularly proud of his achievement. I wondered why. He confided in me that even though his book was selling like hot cakes locally, he couldn’t send the books to those who mattered to him like his sister in Canada. “Aneeta,” he said, “my book retails at RM19.90. But the cost of postage is RM15.00. It’s not worth it.”

Indeed, this seems to apply to newspapers as well. The national newspapers here in Malaysia recently underwent a restructuring exercise and states that, “The other initiative is the creation of new content verticals, a merger of editorial content teams with digital product development and brand management, with education and lifestyle verticals becoming the first to be established. These content verticals are introduced to meet the new business landscape, offering new value added alternatives and customer centric approach.” 2

‘Content verticals’?
‘Education and lifestyle verticals?’

I don’t understand what these terms mean. And when I look them up, I see that they have to do with businesses wanting to cater to the millennials. I close the webpage to do some soul searching.

First, since the beginning of the year, the number of pages in this national newspaper has reduced drastically. In fact, the weekend papers now don’t have a full page of comics. Instead, they publish articles about food and chefs to holidays in exotic locations that most Malaysians can’t afford. What is even more shocking is that the price of the paper has remained constant. Although I am still ordering the print edition, I am beginning to wonder if it’s worth the money.

Second, I am no millennial and I’ve reached the stage where I want to enjoy a story. Not read it because the source I’m reading from is the first to report it. I don’t care if someone is writing the story years after the event; if it’s well-written, I will still enjoy it.

Perhaps, what I should do is follow the example of Amata Luphaiboon and subscribe to only three magazines. This is because I still love the feelings and experiences that come with reading a print newspaper or book.

And there it is, it all boils down to ‘feelings’. I can never forget the feel of the hard cover copy of ‘Joseph Anton’. Or the yellow pages of ‘The Long Pilgrim’. Then there’s the leather-bound copy of the Holy Bible with wafer-thin, gold tipped pages. There are torn copies of Amar Chitra Katha which I glued to keep from falling apart. I wrote my name on the cover of some of them and it was the first time I was using long hand.

So, yes, I feel that when it comes time to publish my next book, I will choose to print a proper book. I may choose an eBook, but this will be in addition to the actual book.

I would love to know your thoughts on this subject matter. Please join the conversation below.



  1. Nicharee Phatitit. Society Bookworms Part 2 of 5: Amata Luphaiboon. Dec 21, 2017 [http://www.thailandtatler.com/arts-culture/arts/society-bookworms-part-2-of-5-amata-luphaiboon]
  2. Awaina Arbee. NSTP restructures management in digital push. [ http://www1.nst.com.my/news/nation/2018/02/333149/nstp-restructures-management-digital-push]

(15 February 2018)


Aneeta Sundararaj fears social media and aims to ‘go local’ rather than ‘go global’.  Read mores stories like this on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’. (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com).

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  1. Aneeta says:

    Here’s a comment I received from Raspal Seni by email.

    Hi Aneeta,

    I had written a reply to post as a comment the other day, but my lappy hung, and I lost what I wrote in notepad. I wrote it again now, but not posting as a comment, since it’s long.

    Your hard work trying to get your stories published, finally paid off. Well done!

    I agree about the feel, the physical books give, and they don’t distract like the digital devices.

    But, like Rohi, I too believe eBooks are better in today’s world. I too like physical books, and like to read away from the computer at times. But, these days, publishing eBooks are better.

    Having a copy of your work in your scrapbook is good, but having another digital copy would have been better. What if there’s a catastrophe, and your physical scrapbook burns down? You’d have nothing left of it.

    But, if you have a digital copy in addition to the physical, even if you lose the physical copy, you can get it back by printing the relevant pieces, again.

    This happened with someone I know, though it was his old family photos. He had tons of photos of his parents and grandparents. He lost all of them when his house got burnt.

    The family survived, and later moved to another country, but he lost all those memories.

    So, digital is the way to go even if you like print books and get a print copy made.

    If you had sent an online link of New Yorker to your friend, it wouldn’t have been hard to point her to the exact location. Sending her part or full of a sentence wouldbe enough for her to search with those words (using Ctrl + F).

    We don’t say “I picked up a tablet.” We say, I purchased an ebook from the Kindle store. 🙂

    What if you want to go on a journey, and want more than a couple books with you? How heavy would your bag be? What if you could get thousnds of them on your Kindle? Almost no weight at all!

    I do sometimes take physical notes when reading even digital books, though.

    The other thing to think about is the time it takes to publish a physical copy, and how hard you need to run after publishers. And, they take a big part of your earning.

    Not to mention, with eBooks, you save some or more trees depending on how many physical copies you make. Be in the green revolution. 🙂

    BTW, I used to read Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, Chandamama, Diamond comics, etc in my childhood too. A lot.

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