Print books are outselling digital by a healthy margin

In the first half of 2014, according to a Nielsen Books & Consumer survey, print book sales were more than twice those of digital.

Nikki Fox/Daily News-Record/AP
A library volunteer sorts books in Virginia. “There's a deeply implanted desire and understanding and wanting of [print] books,” Stephen King told HuffPost Live.

Naysayers lamenting the death of print have been proven wrong – again.

A new Nielsen Books & Consumer survey shows that not only is print alive and well, print books are outselling digital books by a healthy margin.

E-books constituted only 23 percent of unit sales for the first six months of the year, according to Nielsen’s survey, while hardcovers made up 25 percent and paperback 42 percent of sales. In other words, overall print book sales made up 67 percent of sales, more than twice as much as e-books.

The months and years following the launch of the Kindle saw explosive growth in e-reading. In the first six months of 2011, e-reader ownership doubled, and growth was in the triple digits. Digital books were changing the reading landscape, including what readers read, how they read, and where. Observers predicted digital books would save the publishing industry, and forecasted the death of print books.

It turns out those fears were little more than "sky is falling" hyperbole.

E-books sales growth has slowed to the single digits, leaving print books dominant, according to Nielsen.

Now publishing insiders are forecasting a new future, one in which print and digital books coexist. 

"I believe the reader of 2020 or 2030 will have two libraries, print and digital, with different types of books and publications in each," Scott Pack, publisher at HarperCollins imprint The Friday Project, told the UK’s Independent. "While I have no qualms about trying out a debut author on e-book or loading up some holiday reading on to my Kindle, when it comes to my favorite authors I have to own the print edition, and I remain a sucker for a beautifully designed and printed book."

At Electric Literature, Lincoln Michel anticipates a richer reading future.

“The so-called 'format wars' may turn out not to be a war at all. Instead, we may see that the various formats can work together to expand literature and create more readers and markets,” Michel writes.

Why the enduring love for print?

Studies have shown that print books enable deeper reading than digital, as well as better understanding and memory recall.

One study gave 50 readers a story to read, half on a Kindle and half on a paperback, then tested the readers on various measures, including characters, plot, and setting. It found print readers reported “higher measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence” than digital readers, according to the study’s lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University.

Of course, there’s also the good old-fashioned love for the “book smell” and the rustle of pages, as well as collecting books for one’s bookshelves.

And of course, print has endured far more than the advent of digital, says bestselling author Stephen King.

"Books have been around for three, four centuries,” he told HuffPost Live. “There's a deeply implanted desire and understanding and wanting of books.”

In other words, print books aren’t going anywhere.

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