It might fly in the face of anecdotal evidence – i.e. everyone seemingly glued to their devices and laptops – but our love of printed books is alive and well.
This post originally appeared on Page Two Strategies’ blog. Reprinted with permission.
A university professor recently asked us at the PageTwo publishing agency, “Will print books still exist in ten years?” It was a provocative question, a question intended to spark discussion. When we stated emphatically, “Yes, of course they will!” he remained unconvinced. His undergraduate students prefer reading digitally, he attested, evidenced by the fact that they are constantly on their laptops and iPhones.
He insisted that millennials’ digital fluency is leading to a decline in print reading.
His theory seems logical, but data doesn’t support it.
First, millennials do read books. It’s a fallacy that they’re too distracted by video games and the Internet and other online activities to read books. In fact, a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center finds that US readers under 30 are more likely to have read a book – print or electronic – in the last week than Americans over 30.
And when they do read books, millennials are overwhelmingly choosing print over electronic. According to another Pew Research study from 2014, 73 percent of 18-29 year-olds who read a book in the previous year read a print book versus 37 percent who read an eBook. As a matter of fact, the 18-29 demographic chooses printed books more often than any other age group segment.
What’s driving those printed book sales might be a sense of nostalgia for the physical artifact or an appreciation for distraction-free reading material. Media analyst Alan D. Mutter recently argued, “They will buy a book, vinyl record, or other physical artifact that they view as a collectible, but see no value in paying for access to ephemeral headlines that are freely available everywhere.”
Deloitte’s research paper, Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2015 suggests book covers are also a factor in choosing printed books. According to the paper, “A key value of print books appears to be their cover. Covers have been shown to drive sales; but they also send a message to those around you about what you are reading and what kind of person you are. As has been noted, ‘the act of reading a book in public conveys important information to other readers.’”
While the market for eBooks continues to grow, it’s not expanding at the exponential rates we saw prior to 2013. In the U.S., eBooks hover around 30 percent of the book market, and 20 percent in Canada. None of this supports the idea that printed books will soon be obsolete.
But future generations will all be digital natives, accustomed to reading on-screen and comfortable reading a variety of material on mobile devices. Over time, surely we will see a generational transformation toward electronic book formats – whatever they will look like. Perhaps in a hundred years, printed books won’t be as popular as they are now.
But in a decade – yes.
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