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Reading and Technology in 2020: Why writers are bypassing bookstores to find fans and community?

When people can’t meet in person, digital communities are providing new ways for people to interact, socialize and converse, whether they are exploring esports or taking their book clubs online.

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Reading and Technology in 2020

Discovering your new favourite story on your phone, as opposed to in a bookstore, is not a new idea. This is especially true in India, where the integration of mobile devices into everyday life and how we discover new forms of entertainment is ubiquitous — but now, in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital reading and writing is more popular than ever.

Recent data from a wide variety of media and entertainment companies showcase a surge in people consuming more content online, from esports to streaming TV and film, and a big jump in online reading. Many of us have turned to reading online since we don’t have much access to physical books like before.

Interestingly there has also been a spike in authors moving their work online since the start of the pandemic. Whether it’s in search of an engaged community of fellow writers or to subvert the physical limitations of traditional publishing, more books are being shared online and the digital author community is growing rapidly.

This emerging trend is evident in a recent data collected by Wattpad, where from January through April, the number of new stories written on the platform grew by 151 percent. April also saw a 50 per cent increase in user sign-ups as compared to March.

There has also been an increase in the number of new stories being started on the app, with many users who were previously readers becoming writers themselves.

This trend represents a profound insight into these long months of quarantine and limited physical interactions with others; people are turning to storytelling as a way to connect and cope during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

According to a recent report by Health Affairs, social connection is a key to human health and survival — but loneliness is at an all-time high, thanks to COVID-19. When people can’t meet in person, digital communities are providing new ways for people to interact, socialize and converse, whether they are exploring esports or taking their book clubs online.

The data also reveals that, in a year like this one, people want to escape to different worlds. As a result, the stories that have been the most popular during the pandemic span a wide variety of genres, from eerie science-fiction tales about a world in the throes of a pandemic to romance novels imagined in a quarantine setting.

Around the world, authors have been creating new original stories on platforms that offer people a chance to escape. In April, Beth Reekles, internationally-renowned author of The Kissing Booth, started a quarantine romance called Lockdown on London Lane. The story quickly grew in popularity — it currently has 390,000 reads — and it will be published via Wattpad Books in 2021. This summer, India’s horror master Neil D’Silva recently wrote a thrilling story, What the Eyes Don’t See.

Reader trends demonstrate a growing interest in fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and other genres from the LGBTQ+ perspective. Stories like V.S. Santoni’s I’m a Gay Wizard create a rich, unique fantasy world of magic and wizardy, told from an LGBTQ+ perspective and featuring a diverse range of protagonists.

People are stuck at home, looking for new ways to entertain themselves and to connect with other people around the world — and digital reading and writing communities check both boxes.

If it wasn’t obvious before COVID-19, it should be now: entertainment is in a period of profound disruption. More than ever before, there are new ways to find — and even create — entertainment. Moving online allow writers to instantly connect with millions of fellow writers or readers who can’t wait to find something new in their favourite genre. As the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt in India and around the world, it’s clear that digital reading and writing communities will only continue to grow more important.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Devashish Sharma

Country Head (India) for Wattpad

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