Surprise: Millennials Are Devoted to Print Books

Apr 13, 2015



Last week a university professor asked us, “Will print books still exist in ten years?” It was a provocative question intended to spark discussion. But when we stated emphatically that yes, of course they will, he wasn’t convinced. His undergraduate students are constantly on their laptops and iPhones and prefer reading digitally.

The millennial generation’s digital fluency is leading to a decline in print reading, he thought.

His theory seems logical. But data doesn’t support it.

First of all, millennials do read books. It’s a fallacy that they’re too distracted by video games and the Internet and other online entertainment to read books. In fact, a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center shows that US readers under 30 are more likely to have read a book (whether print or electronic) in the last week than those over 30.

And when they do read books, millennials are overwhelmingly choosing print over electronic. Another 2014 Pew study shows that 73% of 18- to 29-year-olds who read a book in the previous year read a print book; 37% of them read an ebook. More of them chose to read print than any other age group.

What’s driving those print book sales might be a sense of nostalgia for the physical artifact or an appreciation for distraction-free reading material. Media analyst Alan D. Mutter recently argued, “They will buy a book, vinyl record or other physical artifact that they view as a collectible, but see no value in paying for access to ephemeral headlines that are freely available everywhere.”

Since 2013, the publishing industry has seen a marked drop in the growth of ebook sales in general. They continue to grow, but not at the exponential rates they had been. In the U.S., ebooks hover around 30% of the book market, and in Canada, about 20%. None of this supports the idea that print books will soon be obsolete.

But future generations will all be digital natives, accustomed to reading on-screen and comfortable reading a variety of material on mobile devices. Over time, surely we will see a generational transformation toward electronic book formats – whatever they will look like. It’s hard to imagine that in a hundred years print books will be as popular as they are now.

But in a decade – yes.