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Setting the Record Straight: eBooks vs. Print

May 11, 2016

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 eBooks 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.

Why Print and Not eBooks?

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 eBooks do 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 eBooks 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 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 be 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 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.


Rick Blog Signature


Janette replied 5 years ago

There are other reasons to like print books as well:

1. Bookshelves look wonderful in a house for their decorative value alone. Coffee table books are designed with that in mind.
2. They also say to people who come in, “the people who live here are book lovers” which is a compliment.
3. Visiting people’s houses it gives you something else to look at to gauge what they are like as well as going through their bathroom cabinet.
4. When you look at the cover of a print book you previously enjoyed it reminds you that author might have written something else by now and to go and have a look.
5. Really bad books have their uses too
– you can give them to the local charity in their nearly-new condition
– shredded they make great cat lit and hamster bedding
– propping up furniture.

You can’t do a single one of those things with an ebook!

Michael J. Walsh replied 5 years ago

Here’s a slightly contrarian view:

That said, I do think eBooks can be a good thing. Easier to carry around 1000 page books. For those with eyesight issues, the ability to adjust type to a readable level. For science books the ability to easily update.

That said, I do believe that printed books will continue to exist. Amongst other things … one actually owns the book, no fear of missing an upgrade to your eReader ….

Dee Ann replied 5 years ago

Nice article, Rick. One more advantage to physical books that I discovered on a really long-stuck-in-traffic-in-the-back-of-a-van trip…the batteries are never low!

Michelle King replied 5 years ago

I was worried about physical books disappearing because I am one of those who like to keep the books I have read on bookshelves in my house. I love being surrounded by books and find that they give everyone a glimpse into what my family likes. E-books are great for convenience (if stuck in an airport you do not need the bulk of several books in your bag) and can allow those who need larger print to adjust the size of the font on the screen without having to pay additional for something that it not as commonly in print. There are pros and cons to each, but I am definitely someone who likes the smell and feel of the real thing 🙂

Perry replied 2 years ago

Love my e reader for travel so I won’t have to fill 1/3 of my suitcase with books.
But at home I definitely want a physical book in my hands.
Just down sized and husband suggested getting rid of all books. Haha don’t think so.
Did get rid of one 1000 books but kept 500 or so How can you live in a home without books?
To re-read hand, to friends or exchange?

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