Glancing at her personal library in her apartment, Caitlin Crouch took a deep breath and smiled. “I think I’m just old school when it comes to books,” said the 10th grade English teacher from Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. “I enjoy being able to hand over my books to my family, friends and my students. You just can’t do that with digital books.”
In the past year, 65 percent of Americans have read a print book, 28 percent have read an e-book and 14 percent have consumed an audio book, according to a Pew Research Center study by Andrew Perrin. Since 2012, print readers more than double the percent of Americans who’ve read an e-book and over four times that of audio books.
Since there is so much technology in society today, why have we not shifted to a more digital platform for reading? Print remains a steady favorite among readers and audio books’ popularity is spiking while e-book reading is at a plateau. Why is this happening?
You’ll always be my number 1
There are three things tying millennials specifically to print reading, according to Brian O’Leary, the executive director for the Book Industry Study Group, an organization with a goal to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry. The first is that print has been around for the better part of 500 years and in that time we have learned how to perfectly present information. “There’s nothing that compares to sitting in my quiet apartment, holding a good book in my hands,” said Amanda Breen Santoriello, a 26-year-old Bostonian.
Next, e-reading has yet to be presented in a way equal to the ease of reading in print. Our psychological makeup tells us that we should enjoy a physical book rather than holding a device, according to Amandeep S. Kochar, the executive vice president of K12 education, software products and services for Axis 360. “The sound the pages make when turning them just can’t be replicated on digital devices,” said Kochar.
Finally, when reading textbooks in print, annotating is easy according to O’Leary. Print textbooks are still strongly preferred over e-textbooks, according to Kim Graff, the operations manager at the Book Industry Study Group. It’s easier to learn from a physical book. “Highlighting on an e-book is not the same sort of interaction as writing in it,” said Graff.
Talk to me baby
From November 2015, to November 2016, audio book checkouts have doubled at Axis 360, a digital library lending service, according to Kochar. Overdrive, another digital library lending service, has also seen a huge upswing in audio books in the past two years, according to David Burleigh, Overdrive’s director of marketing. “People these days have very busy lives,” said Burleigh. “They are listening in their car and on their phones, in places where you can’t sit down and read a book.”
Breen Santoriello listens to audio books on her commute to and from work. “It’s a fun way to be entertained while you’re driving, and makes awful rush hour traffic more bearable.”
Contrastingly, Crouch has tried listening to audio books, but doesn’t like the concentration it takes. “I’m not a good enough driver to be focusing on the audio book when I should be focusing on the road.”
Even though people like Crouch may not be keen on audio books, the sharp uptick in audio book borrowing Kochar and Burleigh express says that audio books aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
They said you’d b(e) better
Only 6 percent of people are digital-only readers, according to the Pew study. “There are people who say they prefer print. They like holding it, the smell,” said Burleigh, ”but the convenience and ease of having so many titles at your fingertips far outweighs the steadfast preference for print.” In the last 10 years, every book published is also published in an e-book format, according to Burleigh. This gives e-book readers an endless number of titles to choose from that can be downloaded in seconds.
After a sharp increase in digital book consumption at their start, the sale/ consumption of e-books has plateaued over the past two and three years, according to the Pew study. Why is this?
A lot of new people try e-books year to year, however, repeating customers is remaining flat, according to Kochar. These people become disappointed by the e-book experience and go right back to physical books. The experience of reading an e-book is simply not close enough to the experience of reading a physical book that people love, according to Kochar.
When Crouch’s students were given the option to have free reading time in the classroom, she said most of them chose to read a paper copy of a book. “They like walking up to the classroom library and picking a book off the shelf,” said Crouch. These students are the future, and if they aren’t taking on to digital reading, what generation will?
Crouch has several beginning language learning students that get good use out of digital reading. “It’s good for them because if they don’t know the meaning of a word, all they have to do is click on it and the definition pops right up in front of them,” said Crouch. Students don’t get this option on print books.
There are millennials who are noticing the benefits of e-reading. The portability and the ability to bring multiple books with you on your phone is attractive to millennials. “If you go to the bank and you’re waiting in line, a phone is an easy thing to bring with you,” said O’Leary. “You can use it for reading in moments you otherwise wouldn’t have anything to do.” It is also more cost effective. Many millennials are on a budget and downloading content online, or borrowing books through digital libraries is much less costly than reading same thing in print.
In our lifetime, digital reading will not overtake print reading. We are too attached to the way a book feels in our hands and the way the pages sound when you turn them, according to Graff. “Print books don’t have a battery life on them,” said Graff. “You don’t have to worry about them dying in the middle of your flight.”
While audio books are on the rise and digital books have plateaued in the past couple of years, print still prevails and remains the favorite among millennials and Americans alike. Will digital reading ever overtake our beloved print?