People still like reading actual books best

By Teresa Welsh

Americans still prefer print books to e-reading.
Americans still prefer print books to e-reading.

Even though Americans seemingly have an electronic device glued to their hand at all times, when it comes to reading, people still want to curl up with a good old-fashioned print book.

Sixty-five percent of people who read a book in the last year read ink on paper. This is more than double the amount that read an e-book (28 percent), according to a survey by Pew Research Center. The number of people selecting print books over electronic devices is only down slightly from 2011, when Pew began tracking such data, indicating that the printing press isn’t going away any time soon.

Thad McIlroy, a publishing consultant at The Future of Publishing, said a few factors have kept people from wholly embracing e-readers. He said it is more difficult to navigate an e-book if a reader wants to move backwards or forwards in the text, and the experience is just not the same.

“I have in my mind of how I would see something in print and there’s a dissonance there,” McIlroy said of the e-reading experience. “Publishers have not done a great job in many cases as presenting it as an attractive visual experience with some e-books.”

He said another large barrier for people taking up e-reading has been the price.

“The big New York publishers have made what many of us consider a terrible mistake in their pricing on e-books,” McIlroy said. “In altogether too many cases when you look online at Amazon, the e-book is roughly the same cost — and in many cases more expensive — than the print book, which is ludicrous.”

Because of that, many people elect to buy the print book because then they own an actual item that has value. It can also be lent to others, or donated after it has been read.

E-readers do come with benefits, including the ability to have hundreds of books stored on a device, which eliminates the need to carry heavy hardcovers on a commute or vacation. You can also easily flip between different titles if you are reading multiple books at one time.

In the last year, 73 percent of Americans read a book, keeping roughly even with past years. Both college graduates and women are more likely to read books in general, and each of those groups still prefer print books over digital formats.

Readership on tablets and smartphones increased more than e-books, indicating people tend to prefer digital reading on a device they already have and use for other things. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of people who read books on tablets increased from 4 percent to 15 percent, and those who read on their smartphone increased from 5 percent to 13 percent. Only 6 percent of people exclusively read books in a digital format.

So far this year, bookstore sales are strong, up 6.1 percent compared to last year in the first six months of 2016. In 2015, bookstore sales grew for the first time since 2007, with brick and mortar locations earning $11.17 billion.

Surprisingly, young people are more likely to read print books than older people are. Seventy-two percent of 18-to-29-year-olds had read a print book in the last year, while only 61 percent of seniors had.

McIlroy said publishing companies thought digital natives would flock to e-books, but that hasn’t been the case.

“It does tell us something that I think is profound. Print is a sensory, a tactile experience that a lot of people appreciate and continue to appreciate,” McIlroy said. “What publishers are increasingly doing is they’re making the books even more beautiful: better colors better paper. They’re just enhancing the physicality of books and thereby attracting readers of all ages.”