I wandered into the World Book Fair in New Delhi on Sunday somewhat reluctantly because of a guilt complex. I have many unread books lying at home, and I said: "No point in buying more if you cannot read them." I am glad I went because, if not for anything else, it opened up my mind to what is out there – and what has changed, given the way technology is progressing.
I was impressed by FlipKart.com's site – a bookless book stall at the book fair, if there was one. All we had were laptops connected to the Net, telling people: what are you doing here when we offer you a wide range at big discounts?
At least in two stalls, they told me their books were not for sale. Catalogues were on offer so you could order them online.
But then, there were people around, browsing, enquiring – and buying.
They told the truth of what tech guru Nicholas Negroponte said more than a decade ago: people will still need bookstores to experience the sheer joy of discovery. There is something to be said about a sunny spring walk that helps you discover books without being cooped up in front of the computer.
I stumbled on a book in the Cambridge University Press stall called ‘iPolitics' (by Richard Fox and Jennifer Ramos), examining how YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and other online activities are influencing politics in the digital age.
A few feet away, I saw a stall for Reado.com, an audio book site. "The future of reading is listening," its slogan said. I realised that my aversion to reading after hours at the computer could be solved through audio books. You can finish your average-size books in two to five hours in an audio format.
As I walked out, I bumped into my friend S V Divvaakar, who on Friday released his novel, "The Winner's Price" about an IITan's career and its highs and lows. He told me that a survey showed that 85% of buyers were ordering online.
I also discovered books by Daniel Pink on how knowledge is changing in the information age. That's another story.