So the sky is not falling in the print book world. Can we all breathe a sigh of relief?
We have all seen the data—eBooks seem to be on the decline and print books are up again. From the numbers that were posted early this year, most of the major publishers are reporting a 10 to 12% decline in eBook sales while print sales were up just over 2% for the second year in a row. I think we all thought that e-book sales would plateau at some point, but let’s admit it; we were all pretty scared for some time, weren’t we? No one knew what the future held, and although we can all surmise about why people still prefer to read a physical book, we really did not know where all this was going to end up. So now we can feel good again about being in the bookselling business, the spring is back in our step, and three cheers for the physical book!
So why have print books seemed to survive the digital onslaught (at least for now) and not gone the way of the DVD or the CD? I have had this discussion with many of my colleagues and bookselling friends over the past year or so and it always seems to provoke the most interesting responses. From these conversations and my own observations, here are my thoughts on why print books have survived, and even thrived.
Books are different than other electronic media. Movies, music, and such mainly cater to our senses of hearing and sight. Through digital advancements these media are able to enhance the product greatly. We have our surround sound, high def, 3D, and now even 4K options. Everything in that form of media is designed to stimulate our senses to give us a higher quality of product and a better entertainment experience. Books are different in that they are really geared toward our minds, intellect, and imaginations. They certainly can evoke a wide range of emotions in us and even spark our senses, but the electronic book does not really enhance our reading pleasure by heightening our entertainment level when reading. It really comes down to one thing: convenience. So the question is, does the convenience of an electronic book make it more appealing than a print book? Let’s face it; the ability to download a book to your device and take it with you where you want is handy. I have a confession to make—I even have a few digital books on my tablet because in some instances it was easier to go that route. So why do we keep wanting print books?
The answer to that question is as different as each individual, but let me offer up a few reasons. Even though books may not stimulate our senses in the same way that a movie or song might, they can still be sensory. Books have a certain look to them that can appeal to us (or not). They can be big or small, heavy or light, and even carry a kind of smell to them that some of us like. When we read a book we get a sense of accomplishment as we flip through the pages and see our progress. (Or maybe despair with our lack of progress!) We can skip ahead a few pages to see if the heroine survives the deadly onslaught to ease our minds. We can put it on our nightstand, and like a faithful companion it is always waiting there for us every night as we prepare to sign off for the day. We can fill our shelves with them as trophies of our accomplishments or to give us dreams of what awaits next week when we are ready to take on our next conquest. And best of all, when we are done reading a really good book we can give it to someone else so they can share in the same joy and pleasure that we found in reading the text. Books are living and breathing works of art, science, business, history, literature, philosophy, theology, and psychology that I think deserve more than just a data file on my device. They need to held, embraced, and shared as the individuals they are. And for books lovers, how enjoyable is it to browse through a bookstore and feel the weight of all the individuals that have toiled over the producing of this work that stands before you? As you pick up a book that might appeal to you it is almost like it is speaking out to you, maybe even flirting you to take a stroll with it and see if you might want to spend some time with it.
My fellow book friends, I think printed books are here for a long time yet. I see the influence that some companies are trying to have by getting devices and into the children’s hands at a very early age in the schools and sometimes I worry about what will come of the printed book in future generations, but for now I am thankful that they are alive and well, and I look forward to seeing my good friend before I turn in for the night.