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The Novel of Words: Print Books Are Here to Stay

By Shawn Pang

The gloomy outlook predicted for print books will have to wait as e-books’ spectacular growth since the late 2000s seems to have run of steam. Coupled with the encouraging signs from younger readers and the print books’ long-standing advantages, print books are here to stay.

Think you have heard this claim many times before? Let’s start with some recent statistics from North America and the United Kingdom (UK), where the sales of English books provide the best cue to why I believe print books are staying. The New York Times recently reported that e-book sales in the United States (US) might be slowing down whereas sales of print books had risen by 8.4% in the first five months of 2015. Nothing impressive? How about this: e-books had soared 1,260% between 2008 and 2010?

The alluring charm of the physical bookstore (Source: BooksActually)

In fact, Daily Mail reported that e-book sales in the US had dropped 7.5% in 2014. Further in the North, BookNet Canada reported that print book sales are growing while e-book sales are declining, with e-books only making up 17% of the 52 million books sold in 2014. Across the Atlantic Ocean, Nielsen BookScan reported that the sales of print books for the first 36 weeks of 2015 in UK rose by 4.6% when compared to the same period in 2014, the first time the print book market has seen a year-on-year growth in this period of the year since 2007.

The Millennial Readers

The good news: younger generations are not abandoning print books. An online survey of 1,420 young adults (defined in the survey as between 16 and 24 years old) in the UK by The Guardian in 2013 found that 62% of readers prefer print books over e-books. Similarly, a 2015 survey of the reading and media consumption habits of 2,000 respondents between 18 and 34 years old by an online journal for the international publishing industry found that 79% of the US respondents and 64% of the UK respondents have read a print book in the previous 12 months. This means that the respondents are twice more likely to read a print book than an e-book.

Students in the US universities also prefer print textbooks over electronic versions. A 2013 online survey, conducted by Hewlett Packard on 527 students at San Jose State University, found that 57% of the respondents prefer print books whilst only 21% prefer e-books. A National Association of College Stores Foundation’s survey of 12,000 students across 20 US campuses in 2013 also reported that 80% of the students had bought at least one print textbook whilst only 20% had purchased at least one digital textbook.

Oddly, the price difference between print and electronic versions may not be that significant, with some e-books costing more at times. One such example is the latest bestselling novel from John Grisham, Gray Mountain. On Amazon’s website, accessed on 5 October 2015, the paperback was selling at US$7.80 but the e-book (Kindle) was selling at US$8.31.

The Hybrid Readers

Besides the print book aficionados and the e-book enthusiasts, many readers have opted to go hybrid. These readers may prefer to read e-books whilst commuting to work or travelling, but favour reading print books for all other times. For these hybrid readers, e-books and print books can co-exist as long as their reading needs are met.
The print book preference of the hybrid readers is good news; they are still reading print books and probably still visiting the physical bookstores. After all, the charm of the physical bookstores cannot be emulated by e-books and online bookstores. It is a space to indulge the senses whilst being surrounded by books of all sizes; the sight of colourful covers and the smell of printed paper. In addition, getting personalised recommendations from the staff beats reading pages of online reviews.

After all, the print book is a treasure trove of memories – one that can be kept and shelved. Try telling this to the e-book readers who discovered that their purchases were pulled from their e-readers without warning due to a rights issue between the e-book seller and the publisher. Besides, print books just simply make better gifts for any occasion.

(Please look out for Part 2 – Print Books for Health and Learning)

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