A Tale of Two Mediums: e-Books vs. Physical Copies

Electronic media may be prevalent, but print is still relevant

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03/11/2022

Lindsey Naples

 

Let me take you back to 2009…

 

I’m 18 years old, sitting in my AP English class. My beloved teacher pulls out her nook (the first edition e-reader from Barnes and Noble) and says the words, “All my books are on here.” I am horrified.

 

Source: Good e-Reader

 

I’ve been an avid reader since I was young. The love of books has literally shaped my life. I went to college to study literature with the express purpose of one day landing myself in the publishing industry. But amongst the litany of “that’s an impossible industry to get into” comments, I also heard the harrowing “that industry is on its way out.” [Anger toward e-readers intensifies.]

 

This idea was mostly due to the convenience electronic readers offer, but it’s proven to be simply not true (thank heavens). In a recent article from Toner News, they reported that only 7% of those polled solely read e-books, and 28% said they read in printed and electronic formats. But I was curious, and so I did what any millennial does in times of need…I went onto Instagram.

 

I asked my followers (many of whom are friends from college or that ever-relevant senior year AP English class) which medium they prefer: physical copies or e-books. I did not expect the result. I assumed there would be at least a bigger percentage for electronic copies, but ironically, it was as Toner News reported: only 7% preferred e-books.

 

The Poll Results From my Personal Instagram

 

 

So yes, there are e-reader enthusiasts among us (Insider has an entire article about the benefits of a tablet from instant downloads to infinite storage space), but it is not going to kill the printed world.

 

Print Is Not Dead

As with anything else, there is an ebb and flow to the market. This was highlighted by Bill Rojack, VP of Sales at Midland, during his presentation in “The Powerful Case for US Book Manufacturing in the face of Global Supply Chain Challenges, Paper Shortages, and Rising Distribution Costs” webinar. While that specific example is for magazines and catalogs, the pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues caused a ripple in the print market across the board.

 

Source: The Powerful Case for US Book Manufacturing in the face of Global Supply Chain Challenges,
Paper Shortages, and Rising Distribution Costs webinar

 

Yet, according to Publishers Weekly Editor Jim Milliot, sales for books “are up 12% last year, coming off a flat year in 2020.” And while he stresses that all sales categories increasing “doesn’t happen very often,” the point is the market is far from destitute. It’s just fluctuating.

 

Source: The Powerful Case for US Book Manufacturing in the face of Global Supply Chain Challenges,
Paper Shortages, and Rising Distribution Costs webinar

 

Regardless of dips in popularity/demand, printed materials have consistently shown that there will eventually be a bounce-back. It’s a pattern. So, is the demand for printed materials shifting? Yes. Is it ancient history? Not even close.

 

Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

As I said before, I’m an avid reader. And while I absolutely prefer the physical copy of a novel in my hand, that doesn’t mean I wholly reject electronic forms of print. I read every article on my phone unless a newspaper is directly in front of me and has something of interest. And I will admit, I have the Kindle app on my iPad and phone simply because it frees up a (wildly heavy) suitcase from all the reading materials I inevitably bring when travelling. So yes, electronic reading material has its place for many readers today and it’s a staple for many reasons. But I don’t think printed materials are going anywhere anytime soon. There is just something to holding a book in your hands; the feel of the pages, the smell (if you know you know), the divisive love of cracking the spine. It plays a key role in the sensory experience of reading, one you just don’t get from tapping/scrolling on a screen.

 

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