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Why do print books still dominate the reading marketplace?

Published on
April 25, 2022 at 12:00:00 AM PDT April 25, 2022 at 12:00:00 AM PDTth, April 25, 2022 at 12:00:00 AM PDT

Tech is king in the digital age: so why are we still so in love with paper books? 


A staggering number of books are printed each year via traditional publishers and distributors; we’re looking at a figure that’s suggested by experts to be between 500,000 and 1 million titles rolling off the presses every twelve months. And these are just industry publishers too – if we expand our definition to include self-published titles too, the figure actually sits closer to around 4 million titles annually, a huge figure even when we consider the large boost to book sales that the COVID-19 pandemic prompted back in the first year of social curbs and lockdowns. Across the board, we’re printing more books than ever before, and as the publishing sector grows, we’re likely to see this go from strength to strength. 


The international publishing market is expected to grow to $124.4 billion by 2025, making it one of the largest industries out there not seeing an increasingly digital turn in recent years. It’s not been a steady progression – book sales across the world took a dip between 2010 and 2015 – but what’s truly striking about these sales figures is that even today, print books are still dominating the purchasing landscape when it comes to readers’ preferences.  


According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centerthat examined how we consume our book media and what preferences the consumer base seems to demonstrate; traditional print is still the most popular format for both the adult reader and developing reader markets. A staggering 37% of Americans claim that they exclusively read print books and don’t engage with their digital counterparts, compared to only 7% who claim that they only read eBooks and digital editions and don’t engage with paper copies. The Pew Research Center data also discovered that print books outsell digital formats by 4 to 1, and only 3-in-10 would describe themselves as ‘an eBook reader’. It’s a larger figure than in previous years, but still a smaller section of the marketplace than we’d expect when the rest of the world is going in the direction of rapidly increasing digitization. 




Are there any disadvantages to paper’s market dominance? 


Paper use and carbon processing are the main things to be concerned about when it comes to looking at the wider disadvantages of paper books over eBooks. Efforts are being made across the industry to be greener and use post-consumer recycled and FSC-certified paper to cut tree-felling requirements and make sure that trees aren’t being depleted at irreplaceable levels. 


More sustainable, less carbon-heavy production methodologies are hot topics across a range of production industries, including paper books, eBooks, and eReaders, and many authors are demanding more eco-conscious print methods from their publishers. It remains that the environmental costs of paper book preference could be set to have a very visible negative impact on the environment unless a major-share switch to recycled, non-chlorine-bleached paper products are made in the next ten to twenty years, but awareness of the notion is building across the sector and more and more books are being printed more responsibly each year.  


What’s behind this love of paper books? 

  • 826 million paper books are sold in the US every year, with sales peaking in late Autumn and early Winter… hinting we’re buying lots of paper copies of books as gifts for the holiday season. 
  • Pre-digital generations still seem to prefer a low-tech or no-tech approach to their recreation time, and many are choosing reading methods that don’t require any additional stress or skill-building, such as picking up a paper book. 
  • With the rising cost of living, many people are turning to buying second-hand books online and in stores to save money – although there aren’t many official studies on the subject, data by Statista indicates that about 20% of us in the US and in the UK are choosing to buy second-hand books as a preference. 
  • A lot of people simply prefer paper copies because they enjoy having a physical, tangible thing to hold when it comes to what they buy – and a focus on older forms of media are making a market comeback in recent years, such as the vinyl resurgence we can see in the music world. 
  • Simplicity is king when busy people want to read on the go: paper books require minimal preparation, with no additional headphones or charging needed, meaning it’s as simple as popping one in your bag to read on the bus.  
  • They’re also more permanent than eReader tech and less expensive if they get damaged, meaning lots of people choose them to travel with.  
  • Paper books are also infinitely more bloggable – interesting cover art, vintage editions and iconic author names and titles are great materials to garner interactions on social media sites such as TikTok and Instagram, with the #BookTok hashtag racking up over 50.2 billion global views. 
  • According to first-person accounts, many people still fear digital impermanence and data losses, and prefer to buy paper books as there’s less chance of losing access to them in the event of a hardware or a software failure. 
  • Paper books are a little easier to come by on the go – they no longer require destination shopping, as they can be picked up in person everywhere from an airport to a newsagent, to a grocery store. 
  • They’re also better placed for people with dyslexia and literacy differences to interact with, as they’re easy to use with OCR-based text-to-speech tech devices.  
  • Paper books are also much more able to be loaned out throughout friendship groups and social groups – usually, when a book is purchased digitally, it can only be read by the one login account on whatever platform it’s been purchased on, whilst a paper book has pretty much infinite potential to circulate.  
  • They’re also easier to annotate and highlight, requiring no specialist reader programs- meaning they’re a good pick for students and people who need to turn a copy of a book into a study guide to revise and learn from. 
  • Many people also use books to create and thematize spaces in the home, such as a study, a library, or a children’s reading area. All are improved by a physical presence that eBooks don’t have – so paper copies are important to people for the atmosphere they create, as well as for their reading potential. 


When books are about more than reading 


Whichever of the reasons are important to you, the takeaway from this data is that paper books look like they’re here to stay, and many people seem to prefer them over their digital counterparts. All reading is good – reading in whatever way suits you is a huge part of developing a reading-for-pleasure habit, as well as being able to read comfortably and informatively in education and the workplace. 


But our preference for paper demonstrates that books have been a huge part of how we construct our identities, find out new information, form social bonds and share our knowledge for centuries now, and our attachment to the physical form of them perhaps shows just how important books are for our sense of self, as well as all the things that the knowledge and stories in books can help us to do. 


For more information on how our award-winning text-to-speech technology like C-Pen Reader 2 can revolutionise the reading experience for people with dyslexia and literacy differences, head over to Scanning Pens for an insight into the amazing difference that assistive tech can make.