Print is a thing of the past! The digital market has rendered print extinct! Whatever way you want to put it, the message is the same: print is dead and that is the end of the conversation.
You might have a hard time telling that to the Association of American Publishers, which reported over 5 billion in sales from the printed book industry alone. In the same report the AAP also concluded that paperback remained the most popular format for books – reigning over e-books' reported 3 billion in sales.
In a recent article titled "The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead," New York Times writer Alexandra Alter reported that e-book companies have failed to capture substantial amounts of subscribers in the technological upheaval of all forms of media. Where the television and music industries have converted many users over to sites like Netflix and Pandora, similar subscription services for e-books have fallen short – even causing some services to shut down all together.
A Nielsen survey, reported on by Alter, reflected this decline. In 2012, 50 percent of respondents claimed they read books mostly on e-readers. In the first quarter of 2015 this number dropped to 32 percent of all respondents.
The path of print tells a different tale altogether. Though the boom of e-readers and e-books did cause a significant hit to the print industry, print appears to be pushing its way back to the forefront. The American Booksellers Association welcomed 59 new bookstores into its ranks in 2014 – the most new members in a single year since the 2008 recession. According to Alter, the ABA has reported 1,712 member stores for 2015 in 2,227 locations, up considerably from their numbers in 2010 of 1,410 stores in 1,660 locations.
Publishers are paying attention. Where the focus of many companies was zeroed in on digital avenues in the past few years, publishers are beginning to invest heavily in warehouses and overall distribution of print materials again. Take Penguin Random House as an example, where 70 percent of sales come from print books. PRH recently invested nearly $100 million in overall expansion of warehouses and print distribution, as reported by Alter.
All of this data is great news for the print industry but what has signaled this shift? Have people just gotten tired of playing with their e-readers and run back to paperbacks like a comfortably familiar ex-boyfriend?
Younger generations prefer print.
Younger age groups, from young teens to young adults, tend to be the most important demographics in any market. They have a foothold on sales when it comes to their own purchases, as well as their parents' (for birthdays, holidays etc.). They also will eventually grow into full-fledged adults with (hopefully) more substantial money and the power to spend it.
A handful of studies have shown that overall, young people prefer print. In Nielsen's 2014 Books and Consumers U.S. Survey, Nielsen concluded that teens from age 13-17 continue to express a print preference despite their generally digital leanings in every other avenue. The study attempted to explain these results in a few different ways, the most interesting being teens' proclivity towards sharing books with one another – a task that is impossible with e-books.
Another study by Hewlett-Packard found that students overwhelmingly prefer print textbooks to their digital counterparts. Out of the 527 respondents polled 57 percent preferred print, a number that only increased in the 18 to 35 age bracket at 62 percent. Preference for e-books was only 21 percent. Respondents also answered questions regarding why they did or did not prefer print. Ease of use was the most popular reason cited for preferring hard textbooks at 54 percent. Note-taking ability was the second most common reasoning at 35 percent.
GeekWire, which reported on the findings of Hewlett-Packard among other similar studies, cited a couple interesting explanations for the print preference. For starters, print books are more comprehensible than e-books. In a study at James Madison University, researchers found that where print books are more likely to be read line by line, e-books are more likely to be skimmed. Skimming text results in less comprehension of the material at hand.
Perhaps the most interesting reasoning cited by GeekWire was the "human factor." GeekWire argues that e-books just don't cut it for people who enjoy the feeling of opening a new book. The staying power is also much stronger with a physical text book. A shelf full of books from your well-seasoned collection just elicits a different feeling than a small square tablet with all your books in its hard drive.
Overall, the younger generation's preference for print combined with the decline in e-book sales suggests a key stabilization for the print industry. There are some things that just cannot be duplicated with a technological equivalent. While print may not always be at the top of the game, if the technology boom could not get rid of print we're not sure what can.