[RESEARCH] Digital reading experiences: between mimicry and innovation

Digital books do not represent a compact category. We can even define two opposing movements. On the one hand, the productions resembling the paper book and those imitating it (the homothetic book). On the other hand, creations that try to move away from it by creating innovative content for young people (the application book).

The ebook is a digital book supporting the ePub, a free and open format, readable on various media as well as on e-readers (with the exception of Amazon Kindle). It relies on web technologies such as XHTML5 and CSS3.

When the ebook embodies the digital version of a printed book, it is called "homothetic" because of its close proximity to the paper book. It simulates on-screen elements intrinsically linked to the printed literary experience and whose presence is no longer essential in digital format, such as "the cover, the table of contents [or] the fixed inscription of the text on" " “-screen” pages (Tréhondard, 2014).

Despite the intuitive ergonomics of these books, their "primary ambition is to preserve the traditional gestures of reading" (Soccavo, 2007) so as not to destabilize the habits of the audience.

But that's not all, "beyond the metaphor of the printed book", the paratext and the simulated "closure" of a homothetic work is important in order to send the idea back to readers that " a complete digital reading ”(Tréhondard, 2014) exists in the face of fragmented reading conveyed by the Internet and interactive content. This “game of mimicry and recognition” (Tréhondard, 2014) demonstrates the willingness of professionals to reassure parents, by showing them that a literary work, even in a dematerialized format, does not encourage zapping (Casati, 2013) and always aims to make children read.

In front of this kind of books, apps offer a unique experience enriched with interaction or animation, freeing themselves from their reference medium and encouraging the reader to become co-creator of the story. Publishers sell these apps from virtual stores of major distributors like Apple or Google, using iOS and Android respectively.

To read the app book, a digital device (smartphone, tablet, etc.) is necessary and internet access is essential to buy or download a copy of the work. The reader will be able to access the book, immediately after purchase.

Note that holders of Apple devices will only access applications developed under iOS while other users will access Android applications.

Different eBooks for different needs

Although the homothetic book does not allow the reader to intervene in the story, it allows them to act on elements of the paratext (font size, fonts, etc.). By “increasing [reading] the reading skills” (Bélisle, 2004) of readers, the homothetic book meets the needs of specific audiences such as the visually impaired or dyslexics (Cavalli, Colé and Velay, 2015). More generally, these “digital transfers of paper books” (Bélisle, 2004) meet a practical or immediate need on the part of the public. The creators of application books, themselves, use digital enrichments to revolutionize the reference reading experience and immerse the reader in artistic universes. It’s an experience that, despite its distance from the paper book, is just as immersive.

A study carried out in 2015 notably showed that the public was less receptive to interactive books without sound enrichments. The conclusion of this study establishes that the book "enriched [...] must be a sound object, otherwise it loses its power of seduction" (Béchemin, Cohen and Rampnoux 2016). Also, to perfect this immersion, the interactive dimension is at the centre of the application book.

The digital book deconstructs the reading practice that’s been established in "two millennia of codex domination" (Vandendorpe, 2003). Whether it is the homothetic book or the interactive book, we will see in the next article that certain characteristics of digital reading confuse the public and prevent the acceptance of dematerialized books for young people.