top of page

The Reports of Print Books' Demise May Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I Want My Book, and I Want It Now

With the advent of eBooks several years ago, hands were wringing across the publishing industry, predicting the end of print books. For good reason - in this digital age it seems there is an app for everything, and the prevailing cultural mentality seems to be geared toward instant gratification.  

The publishing industry, once the only means for readers to access authors’ works, was faced with a consumer who expects almost every aspect of their life to be facilitated by their computer and the Internet. eBooks are available to read immediately - anytime, anywhere, and usually at less cost than a printed book. The publishing industry had good reason to be concerned.

So, Are Print Books Dying As Predicted?

The short (and possibly surprising) answer? No. 

In fact, per Publisher's Weekly, print books rose 3.3% in 2016 vs 2015, and print books sales went up 3% in the first half of 2017, making it four straight years of increased sales for print. Meanwhile, sales of e-readers declined by more than 40% between 2011 and 2016, according to the consumer research group Euromonitor International. Pew Research Center research shows 65% of Americans report reading a printed book in the past year, compared to only 28% who read an eBook.

Why Readers Remain Drawn to Print

Adult coloring books, which have exploded in recent years, giving books as gifts (which isn't as appealing in digital form), and children's books account for some of the continued popularity of print books, but they aren't the only reason. 

People are becoming increasingly aware of too much screen time, and why it can be harmful.  As part of this 'digital detox', readers turn to print books to have a more pure, distraction-free reading experience. Interestingly, one of the largest demographics to eschew eBooks for print is young readers: pre-teens, teens and young adults. They have grown up in the digital age, and have become increasingly overwhelmed by the constant barrage of blips, notifications, and updates. 

How many of us crave the feel and smell of a new book, its pages promising to whisk us away into new lands and adventures? Somehow, in a way that people have a hard time putting into words, a digital reader can't ever replace that "thing" we love about printed books. 

There are also practical reasons print books remain desirable, especially in some genres like textbooks and informational material. Studies have shown that retention rates are lower with eBooks, thus making them less preferable for students and teachers. You can't scribble in the margin, or easily bookmark, highlight or flip to key passages. These abilities are present in some ebooks, however, readers still prefer their visual prompts on paper. 

What is the Future for eBooks? 

The short answer is: they aren't going anywhere. 

Massive online eBook retailers like Amazon ensure that readers will always be drawn to the instant gratification element of digital reading. Authors like eBooks as well, especially independent authors, as they are cheaper to produce, can be ready for purchase in as little as 24 hours, and can be sold on most online platforms - globally. They are able to break down the barriers found in traditional publishing and go straight to market.

eBooks are mobile-friendly and can be downloaded onto any device, so no more getting caught on a vacation, or a long wait, without reading material at your fingertips. 

Research shows that readers who read on eBooks read more books, even children. Authors love the increased sales this produces, and readers love the ability to access any book they want, anytime they want it. It's a fact of today's society: once we have the ability to access something instantly, we are reluctant to give it up. 

Overall, the prevailing sentiment regarding eBooks is that while they are here to stay, they are not in danger of replacing print books altogether. For this writer that is a hopeful statement, as it would indeed be a tragedy if that quickening I get in my pulse as I enter a bookstore, or crack open a new book, was lost forever. 


bottom of page