SHARJAH (Staff Report) – The effect of the digital world on traditional books and the threat it poses was the topic of a panel discussion titled “Light of the Book” which was held yesterday during the Sharjah International Book Fair in Sharjah Expo Center that will November14th.

On the panel were Dr. Latifa Al Najjar, Managing Director of Dar Al Aalam Al Arabi for Publishing and Distribution and Mubarak Rabi, Moroccan novelist and short-story writer. The discussion was moderated by Emirati Novelist Fathia Al Nimr.

Traditional paper books saw a decline in sales when e-books first appeared but soon, this decline stopped and the sales started to point upwards, said Dr. Al Najjar. “I hear a lot of people saying that e-books are sufficient and that we don’t need paper books anymore but research as shown otherwise,” she said. Dr. Al Najjar sited several researches that indicated that people demonstrated better concentration, higher retention and more empathy with stories when they read the texts on paper than when they read them in a digital format.

“It has to do with the stability of the text on paper and that makes the events unfold gradually,” she said adding that people who read digitally tend to have less patience, are often distracted by notifications of other applications or by other games and they also tend to lack the skills to become researchers because they are impatient.

Dr. Al Najjar also said that bookstores are part of our culture and so the demise of the book is very improbably. “How can you get an e-book signed by the author?” she said.  She also stressed the emotional connection between the reader and the paper book saying that this would not exist between the reader and an e-book.

Embracing e-books, Rabi said that it is a natural evolution for the book. “The written word first started on pieces of wood an on leather. Then with the invention of paper, the paper books was invented then the electronic book and finally the digital book which involves multimedia options that bring to live the written text through movement and through sound,” he said, adding that the future evolution of the book might include smell.

Pressing issues that face the book in the Arab world include the quality of the books produced but also the prevalence of illiteracy. He stressed the importance of education in schools and in the family in boosting the level of culture and encouraging reading.

Al Nimr also agreed saying that the importance of the book’s content is more important than the mode in which it is presented.