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Digital reading shows new trends in social media era

YAN DAOCHENG | 2018-10-11 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

With the development of network and digital technology, people’s reading channels have become more diversified, presenting a new trend in digital reading. Reading used to be personal, but in the social media era, digital reading has gained sharing and communication features, thereby changing reading habits, book promotion practices and the development of reading platforms.

Digital reading refers to the digitization of reading, which mainly has two connotations: the digitization of content and the digitization of reading methods and terminals. Paper is replaced by electronic devices. Compared with traditional reading, digital reading has the advantages of large storage, simple retrieval, convenient preservation and low cost. Pictures, texts and sound work together to create a more vivid reading experience. Therefore, digital reading is becoming increasingly popular.

As the 2017 Amazon reading report indicated, some 78 percent of readers have shared reading experiences on social media, such as on instant-messaging app WeChat, microblog platform Sina Weibo, review website Douban and question-and-answer website Zhihu.

In such an environment, people’s reading habits have changed from the previously closed individual reading to shared reading. Digital reading has gone beyond regular digital library and network promotion, extending into a new promotion ecosystem centered on social media, thus fueling a trend of smart and personalized digital reading.


Shared reading
When digital reading was first introduced to the market, people’s reading behavior continued as it was with traditional paper books, as readers sought immersion in their own sensory world. Reading was still a private affair.

With the popularity of social media, digital reading has been pulled from the constraints of personal reading and become shared reading. In particular, as smartphones have become a life necessity, sharing has become a norm.

The 2018 Amazon China reading report showed that more Chinese read both e-books and printed books, with 55 percent of those surveyed falling in this category. Nineteen percent of those surveyed read mainly on electronic devices, compared with 12 percent who prefer only printed materials. In practice, reading books on electronic devices is a major factor fueling sharing behavior.

The emergence of new media technology provides an impetus for sharing, digital content provides a source for sharing and social networks provide more direct and accurate targets for sharing. The technical qualities inherent in social media set the perfect stage for shared digital reading.

To be specific, social media offers a powerful network focused on the connections between people, creating a communication path centered on interpersonal relationships. Everyone can participate in the process of information production and transmission, and this process is highly personalized. Take WeChat Moments as an example: Users often post information with distinct individual characteristics, emotions and interests, and others can read and forward these posts, depending on their preference.

More often than not, the digital content in social media is interesting, unique and innovative. Users are likely to have the desire to share and achieve shared reading. In a media environment where everyone is a content producer, there is a lot of content, good and bad. In order to maintain their own media image, users are more willing to share personalized and high-quality content in social media. At the same time, social media provides instant feedback mechanisms, such as giving a thumbs up or leaving comments, which plays a role in screening, evaluating and improving the quality of the shared content.


Personalized platforms
Thanks to social media, digital reading interaction is multidirectional, such as audience to audience, audience to a certain group, audience to a specific digital reading platform or audience to the digital reading environment. Such complex interactive behavior requires the digital reading platform to be highly intelligent and personalized to meet the diverse needs of the audience.

Social media uses cloud computing recommendation algorithms, which automatically record users’ search requests. The frequency of browsing, reading and sharing provides feedback data through which intelligent platforms can grasp the user’s interests and habits, thus greatly improving the precision of the follow-up recommendations.

In the meantime, cloud storage technology can save a user’s search history, reading, commenting and other records, so even cross-platform digital reading behavior can be stored in the same cloud space, reducing users’ preparation time when they read, improving reading efficiency.

At present, the personalization of digital reading platforms through social media has been mainly achieved through information aggregation and personalized recommendation. The former type of platform integrates content from across various other platforms into specific groups and arrangements; then it presents the arranged content for its own users to choose independently. The latter provides personalized content to its users through algorithms.
Algorithmic intelligence improves the efficiency of digital reading and personalization improves the effect of digital reading. The ultimate purpose is to provide users with more personalized services and content. Though digital reading platforms are far more intelligent and personalized than traditional reading, there is still a long way to go.


Community of reading
No doubt, the main audience for digital reading is young people, who have more diversified and personalized needs for content than other generations of readers have. This difference has gradually stratified content consumption. Once one finds something interesting, he or she is inclined to share with like-minded friends. The acceptance-sharing process is influenced by media, psychology and media content, and, at the same time, users’ selective interaction and multistage communication further promote content innovation and transmission.

The aggregation effect of social media itself enables users of the same interest to quickly form a specific community, in which users are the most direct targets for sharing content. In addition, new media analysis technologies such as cloud computing and cloud storage enable social media to collect and retain users’ relevant information, accurately locate users’ interests and needs, find the most suitable targets for sharing reading materials, and improve the effect of shared reading.

Social media users are active and have prominent likes and dislikes. They are willing to communicate and often yearn to be recognized. Therefore, digital reading platforms can explore such characteristics to come up with unique social functions and experiences, for example, sharing book lists, links to books as gifts, establishing social groups based on interests, themes and regions, and adding social functions to virtual reading communities. All these can expand the influence of digital reading, increase user retention, and attract more people to engage in digital reading.

At the same time, the technical and platform support of social media itself has a natural positive effect on the promotion of digital reading. Massive social media platforms, convenient means of information dissemination and diversified forms of expression attract users to express themselves and pass on content. Specialized digital reading platforms are also opening up their channels to take advantage of social media. In doing so, they break the interactive behavior confined within the digital reading platform in the past and make digital reading achieve a wider range, deeper and higher level of innovation and transmission.

Amid an era of reading transformation, user-centered interaction and multistage communication have given rise to shared and personalized reading as well as various reading communities, creating a more open and free reading environment. Digital reading, as mobile and fragmented as it becomes, is one of the new learning methods in the internet era.

Given that the essence of learning is to realize the self-awareness and self-transcendence of the individual and humanity, the “intelligent” element of digital reading will not change the true nature of reading itself. Nonetheless, the role of digital reading in cultivating reading interest and integrating the visual and audio effects of reading should not be overlooked.


Yan Daocheng is a professor from the School of Journalism and Communication at Hunan Normal University.

(edited by YANG XUE)