Alexis Ternoy
Alexis Ternoy 15 December 2015

E-Book, Print Or Neither?

Print is long dead and nobody reads books any more anyway. Yet e-book revenues continue to climb. What's really happening to reading?

Long live the print book, the print book is dead.


If you are one of the few people who bought a book this year, then congratulations.  You’re of a dying breed, since a depressing 80% of us didn’t spend even one dime on books in the past year.


And it is a growing trend.  Most of us haven’t even stepped foot in a bookstore for more than 5 years.  By 2012, almost half of all publishers were planning for about 3/4 of their titles to be distributed in digital form.


Sadly, you probably aren’t even surprised by these depressing facts.  After all, you have your audio books all neatly tucked away on your smartphone, your Kindle or your tablet.


That is, if you read at all.


Does anybody read books anymore?


There is a second problem when it comes to the state of our nation’s literary health: we are not just refraining from buying books- we might be giving up on reading altogether!


Case in point: a third of us never read another book after graduating from high school.  And a surprising ironic twist: it seems going to college really puts us off reading: a puzzling 42% of college graduates will never read another book again.


These are sad facts for a nation that produced the likes of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and George Orwell.


Reading correlates strongly with civic engagement, employment rates, and life satisfaction.  It inspires, educates, entertains, and encourages careful thought and self reflection.  In short, the nation that reads is the nation that excels at living the good life.


A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen.  The man who never reads lives only one.George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Are we to conclude our culture is going down the tubes?


What’s happening to reading?  Here’s some surprising good news.


But before we declare a national state of literacy emergency, there is a glimmer of hope for our standing as a cultural beacon of literacy as well as our general status as a respectable, well-read country.


It’s the millennials.  They seem to be reversing everything.


According to a 2014 Pew Research study about how Americans engage with libraries, books and reading, young adults are more likely to have read a book in the past year than older generations.


Not only that, but a National Endowment for the Arts survey, which has been reporting on literacy and reading rates in the US for decades, has similar good news.  After an alarming twenty-year decline in the percentage of adults who read literature, that sad trend is finally being reversed.

Starting in 2002, when literary reading had dipped to a deplorable low of less than 50% of the population, things are looking up in Europe as well.  From 2002 to 2008 we saw the overall adult literacy reading rate climb from 46.7% to just over half of us.


Again, it’s the younger adults spearheading that reverse, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.  The survey also reveals the encouraging fact that Millennials represent 3.4 million additional readers (US alone), a group that sees three times the growth rate of all adult readers.


It’s not the case that young people in general tend to read more.  It’s just the Millennials.  Millennials’ counterparts just six years earlier than the latest NEA study were actually the ones responsible for much of the steep decline in reading!


Clearly, Millennials are a unique generation when it comes to reading.  But why, and how can we tap into this to bootstrap the rest of the nation into a more cultured existence?


Millennials set the tone of our future culture.  For once, everyone can agree this is clearly a good thing.


All this is great news, although try telling that to your local independent bookstore owner.  Heck, even Barnes & Noble (the largest retail bookseller in the United States according to Wikipedia) is hurting at this point.  It’s been almost two years ago now that they closed up their flagship store on Fifth Ave in NYC.



Digital content revenue growth is extremely healthy, to say the least.  Millennials are “digital natives”, meaning they see digital publishing as the norm, not the revolution that it is.  Again, long live the printed book…


E-book, print, or neither?


If you would asked that question just a few years ago, most experts would have answered “neither”.  But now, thanks to Millennials and Amazon, the answer just might be “e-books”.


E-book purchases continue to expand, although tablet readers are also on the rise.  Either way, the print book is over.  It’s estimated that Amazon makes between $265 million and $530 million from sales of e-books.  That’s on top of around $3.9 billion in revenues from Kindle e-readers.  And even though Kindle sales went flat in 2013, an uptick is expected to occur each year for at least the next five years according to analysts.


So thank you, Millennials, for rescuing our culture from the dangerously low levels of literary reading we once suffered.  And thanks to Amazon for making it all so very easy to obtain and digest.  Thanks to you both, there is hope for the future.


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