When reading is defined as the reading of printed books, Hong Kong’s reading culture is often compared unfavourably with that of the Mainland and Taiwan. Ah-yo believes this is partly because of Cantonese. “We speak Cantonese, so when we read we need to translate the written Chinese into the language we speak.” She believes this makes reading become a more serious matter to people in Hong Kong and that is why teenagers prefer online reading materials. They simply feel more comfortable reading them.
For Ah-yo, online reading is like pop music. Classical music lovers may claim that pop songs should not be considered “proper” music, but people may develop their interest in music from listening to pop songs. “From the simple to the complex,” she says, “it’s the same with reading.”
Ah-yo is one of a growing breed of local writers who have become popular through their online publishing. Maydreaming, a senior editor of a youth magazine, wrote the wildly popular online story, The Day I Attended a Funeral. He published the story in 10 installments between May and August this year on the popular discussion platform, Golden Forum.
The story, which deals with friendship and the contrast between dreams and reality, was widely shared. It got around 10,000 likes within two months of publication on Facebook in August this year. A production company has even approached Maydreaming to adapt the story into a short film.
Maydreaming believes that publishing articles on social media platforms is an effective way to help new writers to build up a solid reader base. He explains that people will be curious about things that have been repeatedly liked or shared by their friends and will want to take a look at it themselves. He says this helps to promote reading culture.
He also takes issue with the idea that teenagers in Hong Kong do not want to read long articles. “Regardless of the length of the article, people are still going to read it as long as they find the content attractive and inspiring,” he says.
While online reading may be increasing at the expense of traditional books, Varsity’s survey shows that electronic books are also making inroads among young readers – 60 per cent of respondents said they had read e-books.
Publishers admit the growing popularity of e-books will have an impact on sales of traditional books but Ella Mak, senior editor of the publishing house Culture Cross, says the trend also presents opportunities by opening up new markets. Mak says Culture Cross has developed smartphone apps to attract more e-book readers. She hopes the expansion of the e-books market will boost the reading culture in Hong Kong.
“We can still see the value of printed books. Many readers still prefer reading printed books,” says Mak who believes the promotion of e-books may even attract more people to buy printed books.