Print book lovers have suffered long under the rise of ebooks and the smug condescension of tech idealists, happy to remind old-school readers that their beloved format is headed the way of the record or the VHS tape.
The death of books has been so completely taken for granted by many that a genre’s ebook sales have been used to argue for a genre’s relevance, or irrelevance, to younger readers.
Well, um, maybe rethink that one? According to The New York Times, print book sales are holding steady in 2015 -- and ebook sales have hit a wall. “Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago,” writes Alexandra Alter. In fact, “E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers.”
As a print book lover and advocate, can I just say, with respect: I TOLD YOU SO I TOLD YOU SO I TOLD YOU SO! Ahem. Sorry about that.
It’s frustrating, as a millennial reader, to see commentators assuming that we can’t even read a book unless it’s presented to us on a screen. In fact, as I was writing this, I overheard a young colleague, who covers sports for HuffPost, casually remark, “I like to read a physical book, not just read on my phone.” Paper isn’t just the refuge of the old fogy. As Alter points out, studies suggest even digital natives prefer to read on paper.
#NotAllReaders, obviously, but the eager ebook adopters clearly aren’t representative of the whole body of book consumers, and eventually the easily convinced were bound to be maxed out. As early as January 2012, Nicholas Carr speculated, “The early adopters, who tend also to be the enthusiastic adopters, have already made their move to e-books. Further converts will be harder to come by.”
I feared the day with no print books would come, but never really believed it. Despite all the comparisons to VHS, records and CDs, I knew readers didn’t feel the same way about their books.
Here are just 11 simple reasons the print doomsayers have been wrong all along:
- Some beautifully designed books offer pleasure in themselves, as aesthetic objects. Why buy a generic ebook copy of a new novel when I could spend a few bucks more -- or even, after recent ebook price hikes, the same amount -- and get an aesthetically pleasing memento to fill your bookcase?
- While ebooks seem to encourage us to fly through a continuous stream of text, certain books just feel more real held in our hands and paged through meditatively. Personally, I will always prefer to read meaningful, thought-provoking books in print, easily able to flip back to previous passages and trace the passage of my reactions almost physically through the book, and I know I'm not alone.
- Many studies suggest reading on print is significantly better than reading on a screen, particularly in terms of how much we comprehend and recall.
- Some titles, like the latest Fifty Shades knockoff, we may prefer to enjoy privately on an ereader. But if you’re tackling Infinite Jest or the new Marilynne Robinson, you’d probably like to telegraph your accomplishment to those around you by brandishing the physical book. Petty, maybe, but we’re only human, right?
- What about that digital music comparison? For one thing, the ways we read books and listen to music differ, so being able to access a huge number of books on one device lacks the huge bump in convenience offered by an MP3 player. Most readers don’t pine for a way to easily toggle between 15 books, a couple pages at a time; we sit down with a book for long stretches, until we’ve finished it. Oyster Books, a subscription service similar to Netflix or Spotify, struggled to establish a foothold in the market and recently announced it would be shutting down, though much of the team will be heading to Google Play Books.
- Authors often sign print books -- a fairly attainable and common way for readers to get mementos from their idols. Maybe we’ll see authors start to autograph fans’ body parts and T-shirts instead, but, uh … I doubt it. (The literary world is a decorous one.)
- You can make your own mark on a book in a personal, distinctive way you simply can’t on an ebook. No amount of digital highlighting or typed notations can compare to looking back over the jotted marginalia in your own handwriting and pencil underlines that grow heavier when you were particularly excited. (Don't get too carried away, though!)
- Ebook prices were rock-bottom low for years. Fair-minded people disagree over whether Amazon was purposely selling ebooks at an absurdly low price in order to win over the market, but given that writers, editors, publicists, etc., still need to be paid regardless of whether a book is made into a physical object, super-low prices probably weren’t sustainable. At least we know what physical books cost!
- Many readers who’ve adopted ebooks still love print books and actually buy and read both, a 2012 Pew survey showed. Just because a reader likes the convenience of stocking a tablet with crime novels for a long trip doesn’t mean he or she wants to give up the pleasure of paging through and purchasing a beautiful hardcover to treasure for years and pass down to loved ones.
- Full bookshelves make for both beautiful and functional decor! (A full ereader, not so much.)
- Nearly every reader feels some sort of emotional attachment to their print books, which we physically interact with, closely, as we read. No other form of media involves this intimate engagement throughout, with our own fingers softening the pages and creasing the corners. Rereading these books also means returning to an object we’ve loved and imbued with ourselves. A VHS videocassette could never compete with that.
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