Myth Busting: Are ink-on-paper books dead?

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Books are dead, aren’t they? A woman asked me that question as she held up her smartphone in the middle of a workshop I was leading. I’m 80 years old and, if I’m reading my favorite authors on my phone, I’ll bet kids today have given up on books entirely!

That comment at a recent seminar I led about new directions in publishing contained a couple of myths:

  1. Ink-on-paper books are dead.
  2. Young people are leading the charge toward digital reading.
Gutenberg bible
A durable piece of technology! After more than 500 years, the Gutenberg Bible still works as a reading device. Photo Source

In fact, Publishers Weekly is reporting that 18-to-34-year-old adults are leading the charge away from digital devices. The desire to spend less time looking at digital screens is strongest among young adults—about a third express that weariness—than it is among the elderly. Americans aged 65 and older continue to e-readers these days and like the flexibility, especially the option of increasing the size of the print with a tap of a finger. Nevertheless, even many seniors now are saying they want to spend less time with their Kindles, expressing that same screen weariness reported by young adults.

That digital fatigue, as it’s now known, is growing into a tidal wave. The Independent Book Publishers Association concludes: The technology infatuation with e-readers may be ending, and younger readers are trending away from e and back to print.

There’s a reason the myth of e-book dominance is hard to bust. The multi-billion-dollar music and home video markets have migrated overwhelmingly to digital delivery. An ever-dwindling number of Americans buy music CDs and DVDs or Blu-rays, these days. They simply stream what they want—often to hand-held devices.

So, why didn’t books follow that migration toward digital?

The biggest reason is: When it comes to reading, we’ve still got choices! Millions of us are fatigued with all of the electronic screens we stare at throughout the day. We can’t completely abandon those screens for much of the media we need to access—and want to enjoy each day. Want email? Facebook? The latest news? A weather forecast? There’s no choice but to look at a screen. And, even if we still would prefer to buy CDs and DVDs or Blu-rays for our music and movies, the list of available titles is shrinking.

What’s left if we want relief from screens? One word: Books. When it comes time to enjoy a mystery, a romance, a fantasy novel, a celebrity memoir or the latest inspiration from a popular spiritual teacher—pick up a neatly trimmed, smooth-to-the-touch chunk of bound paper and relax wherever you’re most comfortable as you read the elegantly reproduced type.

After 500 years, ink-on-paper books are still a delightful respite from the world’s deafening buzz.

About David Crumm

David Crumm is founding Editor of Front Edge Publishing. Nationally, he is known as a veteran journalist—a top writer and editor—with experience both in the U.S. and overseas. He is based in Canton, Michigan, where he also serves as Editor of www.ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine. His columns on trends in media appear twice a month on our Front Edge Publishing website. Sign up to get these columns by email.