Why Printed Books Are Still Our Favourites

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We’ve written extensively in the past about the wonderful qualities of the printed word. And it seems that we are not alone in our love of printed books. New figures show that readers continue to love printed books more than ebooks.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre in 2020 has revealed that, when it comes to reading books, traditional print remains the most popular format for both adults and children.

It’s not hard to see why children prefer printed books.

The large-format, full-color illustrated books for children and the tactile delight of turning the pages are impossible to recreate on an e-reader. That’s no doubt why only 4 percent of books published for children are issued in a digital format.

Traditional Print Remains Our Favourite

The Pew Research Centre study found that physical books generated nearly three-quarters of the total book sales revenue in 2019. Meanwhile, ebook sales accounted for just seven percent of the total. Other formats, such as audiobooks, accounted for the remaining share.

The researchers found that the most voracious readers are young adults in the 18 to 29 year old age group. Eighty-one percent of them read a book in 2019.

Indeed, 74% of respondents in this age group said that they prefer physical books to ebooks. And while the degree of preference for printed books does vary between age groups, it holds true across all of them.

Why do we love print so much?

Researchers have found many reasons why we love to read in print. The first and most obvious is the tactile nature of a printed book. The evocative feel of turning a page and navigating through the story is a joy.

Furthermore, this goes some way to explaining why we engage more readily with printed content and research has shown that we retain information absorbed from printed materials better than we do that on digital screens.

Researchers have suggested the cognitive maps we construct for ourselves as we read a book help with our understanding, navigation of the story, and our later retention of it.

Some of us, of course, don’t have a choice. Research shows that 41 percent of Americans over the age of 65 do not use the Internet. For them, the printed book is the only book.

But we can all enjoy the low-fi feel of print at the moment. We’ve had enough of failing Wi-Fi, dying batteries and pop-up ads while working from home. Making that transition from work life to home life by closing the screen feels even more imperative at the moment.

What is the future of the printed book?

Fresh data adds further grist to the Pew Research Centre findings. Sales figures from 2020 suggest that the future of the traditional printed book looks bright. While e-book sales have been declining, printed book sales were up in 2020.

Bloomberg reported that “The cheery news from the publishing world is that sales of books –  actual hardcover books – were way up during 2020.”

However, it went on to report that “The cheerless news from the retail world is that sales in physical bookstores plummeted.”

It seems that the pandemic lockdowns have changed our reading habits in more ways that one. As we have looked to nature for solace, we want to disengage from our digital screens and the printed book offers us a way to do this. With more leisure time at home, we have more time to read too.

However, our inability to shop in physical stores has meant that we are buying these increasing volumes of books online. This trend has caused Bloomberg journalist Stephen Carter to lament, “I’ll mourn if the stores die, for we’ll lose the excitement of browsing and the unexpected stumble upon a new and exciting volume.”

How to buy printed books

The good news for lovers of this browsing experience is that, during the pandemic, independent stores have worked hard to deliver their wares to customers in a COVID-safe manner. It’s been a lifeline for people in lockdown or isolating.

The launch of the Bookshop.org platform has been a further shot in the arm for independent booksellers. As a circumvention of Amazon, it was launched in the USA in January 2020 by Andy Hunter, the co-founder of Literary Hub. It has 900 shops signed up and has tripled sales each month. The success has seen new national Bookshop.org stores open up online around the world.

Even big retail brands have got in on the act. Weekly recommendation newsletters from British store Waterstones features personal recommendations from Waterstones store staff to tempt you to read new titles. And Foyles has a page on its website dedicated to staff picks.

The future of printed books continues to look bright. The future of independent bookshops is in our hands – and in the purchasing decisions, we make.