Don’t Write off Books Just Yet
Customary wisdom says printed book sales are dead, supposedly done in by the millennial generation’s affinity for all things digital. Yet, pesky signs keep appearing that say printed books are alive and kicking.
Granted, younger people may not have the same love of dead trees as yours truly, but something is afoot in Tradition Land. Earlier this year, I saw a story that chronicled a 2.4 percent increase last year in printed book sales—more than 635 million units.
Not long after reading this story, I received an issue of a trade magazine that covers the Christian products industry.
In an article about seven cultural trends, the U.S. director of an international chain of bookstores noted that e-book sales hit a plateau in 2014, especially non-fiction titles.
“New evidence is emerging that the Christmas season was very good for physical book sales, but not so much for e-books,” he wrote. “The Waterstones chain in the United Kingdom even referred to the decline of Kindle sales in their stores as having ‘not just fallen off the edge of the cliff, they’ve hit the bottom.’
“While it is certainly far too early to call for the demise of books—and they are likely to be a permanent fixture in the future book-reading world—they may not represent as high a percentage of sales as had been anticipated.”
In recent times, I have encountered other evidence that print isn’t losing all its steam. A few months ago at a trade show, I ran into the publisher of a book company that helps authors wanting to self-publish.
A woman who teaches English had just released her second book through the company. When I asked if it was in e-book form, he said, “Yes, but printed copies outsell it 10-to-1.”
The woman, who has a 14-year-old girl at home, added, “My daughter has quit using her Kindle. She would rather read the actual book.”
Last year, while in Orlando to see family, my wife and I had a lunch with a couple who both graduated from my high school. During our reunion, he noted how he often will buy a printed copy of a book he purchased for his e-reader.
“You can’t make notes on a screen,” he said. “I want to write things down in my copy, like comments or questions or interesting points. You just can’t do that with an e-book.”
Now, I’m not trying to fuel a debate over whether printed or e-books will prevail. My point is that you shouldn’t cross off the future of books under the misguided belief that they have become dinosaurs.
A parallel exists with the writing I do for several Christian publications. One time the news editor of one e-mailed me to say that my latest story wouldn’t appear in the magazine because of space restrictions. However, he said I would get paid the same rate for the online version.
When I remarked that probably as many people would see it anyway, he replied that the magazine’s circulation was 140,000, but its online audience totaled 2 million.
Recently, I also discovered that another magazine I write for has dwindled from 250,000 copies at its peak to about 100,000 in circulation, but today its family of web sites reaches 5 million people.
So, while format may be changing, we writers won’t be vanishing in the near future. Our words will still be around, whether they appear on paper or on a screen.