Proof the Book Industry Is Just Fine, Thank You

“People of all ages are walking into the bookstore or going onto Amazon and putting [print] books in their virtual/real-life shopping cart.”

We said it as far back as 2013, which we called “the year print wouldn’t die.” At the time, some thought it was wishful thinking, and that we hadn’t seen the entire fallout of e-books and their impact on the publishing industry.

Three years on, that hasn’t happened. Early last year,  e-book sales continued to slump while print book sales jumped. Was it just an aberration? Appears not, according to this year’s latest sales figures.

“Last December, Nielsen BookScan reported that 571 million print books were sold in 2015, a 17 million increase from the year before,” notes Brooke Gladstone of WNYC in a repeat broadcast of On The Media.

“What’s driving those sales of paper books? And what can we expect from the publishing industry this year?” Gladstone asked of her guest Carolyn Kellogg, books editor at the Los Angeles Times.

“E-books have definitely leveled off. They were predicted at one point to be about 50, 60 percent of the market and they seem to have leveled off at around 25 percent,” Kellogg notes.

Some say the good news around print books is due to coloring books and vanity books from YouTube stars. On this point, Kellogg is clear:

“Well, those are two very separate demographics of people who buy books, so we should [be cheering]. Publishing is always driven by a couple of really big hits, and the big hits usually come out of nowhere. So like when Harry Potter first became a big hit, books about boy wizards had not been topping the bestseller list, but then they did. And then there were lots of other books about magic.

“[And] the people who are buying the YouTube star books are tweens,” Kellogg continues. “It’s interesting because the YouTube stars are people with whom they have a very intimate relationship through a screen. And you wouldn’t think there’s anything else to share in a book, but it’s a way of transporting that experience into a different kind of permanence.”

We’re not saying that e-books are dead; there’s plenty of room for both kinds of reading experiences in the vast sea of written material. The endurance of printed books  crosses generational lines. Millennials prefer printed textbooks, and even tech-savvy teens still prefer print.

“People of all ages are buying [print] books, and they might be buying different books but they’re all walking into the bookstore or going onto Amazon and putting books in their virtual/real-life shopping cart.”

Print books dying? Nope, not happening.