At one point, it seemed almost inevitable that e-books were going to replace printed books. But, inevitability is a funny thing. What can seem so obvious while change is rapidly happening can seem so far-fetched in hindsight. The past calendar year or so has seen an intriguing turn of events where the rapid ascent of e-books first plateaued, and then gave way to a renewed popular preference of printed books.
What happened, exactly? Maybe it’s digital fatigue. Maybe it’s the book publishers’ fault, or the technology that hasn’t reached its fullest potential — or more than likely a combination of factors. Even the biggest publishers have been asking the same question (see, for example “Penguin Boss Admits Their Focus on e-books was an Error” via The Good e-Reader) and this is a topic we’ll delve into further in the near future.
Recently from Good E-Reader (“Kids love print, will they embrace eBooks later in life?“) the question was posed: “Are kids more likely to embrace e-books later in life, if they are reading print during their formative years?” We don’t know, we are mostly just guessing at this point but hopefully we can at least make more well-informed guesses.
About two-thirds of the students asked from two wide-ranging polls indicated that they prefer print to digital books. But is current preference a reliable predictor of future preference? Possibly not(check out Dan Gilbert’s excellent book, Stumbling Upon Happiness for more on the topic). Some organizations such as the UK-based National Literacy Trust have, based on their own extensive research on reading habits, recommended a sensible middle ground of a “mixed reading diet” of print and digital books.
My opinion is that we are very unlikely to stop preferring print anytime soon. Print will continue to do what it does best. The more open question comes from the e-book side of things. The price of digital versions relative to their print counterparts continues to be a sticking point for many readers. Perhaps the technology of e-reading devices changes to get over the objections of why we prefer print over e-books. Perhaps navigation improves, the tactile experience somehow more closely approximates the printed book experience — or maybe not.
The recent Pew Research Center findings (see: Book Reading 2016): “Nearly four-in-ten Americans read print books exclusively; just 6% are digital-only book readers,” was surprising even to me how much it skewed in favor of print books. If you visit their report, yes, it might look like a lot of numbers and graphs — but the overall picture is that the question of reading trends continues to be a very open question that is far from resolved.