Posted on April 25, 2014 in – Publishing, Industries

People Who Buy Books, Love Books


As the title suggests, people love books. Not all people, mind you, but the people who do buy books, really love them. So when surprise was expressed at the results of a survey that suggest people aren’t giving up print books any time soon, I was surprised. What’s so strange about that?

The “surprising” survey in question (the commissioned IT Strategies books study, “The Evolution of the BookIndustry: Implications for U.S. Book Manufacturers and Printers”) was conducted in the U.S. by the Ricoh Americas Corporation and the University of Colorado. Of the 800 survey respondents, the average age was 39, over half have earned an undergraduate degree and were 55% female to 45% male.

Without a doubt, the most interesting results from the survey came from the respondent’s opinions, rather than ebook/print usage statistics. First of all, college and university students are more likely to prefer printed textbooks over ebooks.  Printed books are easier to concentrate on, and provide less distractions than their ebook counterpart. Textbooks in ebook format may be more convenient when travelling to class, but they seem to be less desirable when it comes to studying at exam time.

60% of eBooks that are downloaded in the U.S. are never read. Quite possibly a significant portion of that figure are never even opened. It’s easy to see how this comes about – people are gifted ereaders or purchase ebooks on impulse if they see some on sale, and then never get around to actually reading it. Fair enough, sometimes life gets in the way. Tablet devices are often used for entertainment purposes other than reading, though that still holds appeal for many people.

Here’s the part that is most shocking to people. Nearly 70% of the people who took the survey felt that it was unlikely that they would have abandoned the print format of books by 2016. As mentioned in previous blogs, there are legitimate reasons why some people prefer the printed book over the ebook. They pretty much line up perfectly with the three top reasons chosen in this survey: the look and feel of a book and it’s paper, the ability to display the book on a bookshelf or coffee table (those would be the bibliophiles in the survey group), or avoiding eye strain caused by reading electronic screens.

But is this surprising? Hardly. If anything, it’s surprising that the number isn’t higher. People who love books are going to buy them from the content more than the format – a Pew study from 2012 shows that 88% of people who read ebooks also read printed books – they don’t discriminate. Just because you have the newest Playstation or Xbox console doesn’t mean you don’t love the originals, right? Consumers like to be able to touch, smell, hold, feel the products that their hard earned money goes on. Consumers like to collect. That doesn’t mean that they won’t buy ebooks, though. Both have their place in a book lover’s world, and I’m sure that many book lovers value their e- and print books equally.

To be honest, the fact that this is shocking is what is really surprising to me. Why are the ebook and the print format constantly lined up and compared? It’s like comparing oranges and apples – sure, they are both fruit, but they have different uses and different people like them for different reasons. Ebooks have the convenience of being able to purchase whenever, wherever, and print books have the benefit of being a luxury item that hold sensory attachments. They shouldn’t be compared.

The original article that discussed this survey says that the print book has an “unexpected positive outlook” for the future. Based on the survey results, I would say that it was only unexpected to those actually writing the article. Consumers know what they like, and content will always win over format (that’s why so many people don’t mind illegally downloading videos – they want content, and they don’t care what way it gets to them!).

To come full circle – people love books. It doesn’t matter what format it comes in. Both are still in demand, and ebooks help to sell copies of books that might not be in high demand in print. And vice versa. In fact, publishing electronically isn’t even that much more profitable than print – even the largest publishers aren’t able to get more than 20-30% of revenue from sales of ebooks. So in that sense, they really aren’t all that different.  Print books aren’t dead, and ebooks are here to stay.