Younger people don't care for paper products; they want everything digital and online – or so the narrative goes. In reality, data shows that millennials overwhelmingly tend to prefer print media, including advertisements and books.
Students don't want
Perhaps the biggest misconception surrounding the print industry today is that college students dislike books, and would prefer their textbooks to be converted to digital formats. It turns out the complete opposite is true, as The Washington Post detailed. The source pointed to a University of Washington survey, which found that in the fall 2014 semester, 87 percent of textbooks purchased for college classes were in print form, and that even when a free e-book version was provided, about a quarter of students still spent the extra money to obtain a physical copy anyway.
The same trend can be seen in advertising. Apparel noted that, according to professional services firm Deloitte, millennials account for 10 percent of all newspaper revenue, and 1 in 6 are likely to subscribe to print periodicals. However, marketers have largely ignored this generation in a print format, simply because of the meritless assumption that they will ignore any and all pieces of paper they come across. On the contrary, a Pew Research Center study revealed the age demographic with the highest rate of print readership is – you guessed it – 18-to-29-year-olds.
Digital content is harder to comprehend
Here's a scenario: You're browsing your favorite news website online and you come across a lengthy feature piece on your favorite musician or athlete or artist. You begin to read it, but soon get distracted by the limitless knowledge and information the Internet has in store for you – like pictures of puppies. You lose interest in the article, and skim through the rest or stop reading completely.
Well, it's impossible to look at pictures of puppies while reading a book (unless it's a picture book with a puppy protagonist), and therefore, it's easier to focus. The Washington Post referenced readers who make "mental markers" in books, and how this practice is nearly hopeless in a digital format. Surveyed readers in the University of Washington study only spend an average of about a minute on each webpage, and only 16 percent read word-for-word. The format is simply less engrossing than print, and so it's harder for readers to ingest. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising statistic pertaining to comprehension abilities in digital text versus print is the following: Students who partook in the University of Washington study were asked whether they would be more likely to multitask reading on-screen or reading a physical document or book. You might be able to guess which one was the more prominent answer, but you probably wouldn't guess that 90 percent said on-screen, and just 1 percent of respondents chose print.
Overcoming the inaccurate perception
Clearly, there is no inclination to prefer digital text amongst millennials, and particularly students. But the question persists: Why is this narrative so widely proliferated? And why haven't the majority of people – and media members – picked up on this discrepancy? Well, maybe they're starting to.
Apparel cited J.C. Penney's reestablishment of its product catalog in a print form as a telling sign that marketers are starting to figure it out. After discontinuing the physical copy in 2009, the company seems to have realized that it missed a massive opportunity to grow its brand during the years in which the catalog was not published. The source suggested that coupling digital and print strategies is the most effective way to maximize market potential, especially among the younger, multimedia-oriented generations. But this perfect balance has not yet been achieved, with advertisers focusing too heavily on one side or the other.