I’ve been a bit tied up lately but had a strong hankering to do a little writing this morning. So allow me to get right to it by offering you some very good news by way of the Wall Street Journal.
Half a decade into the e-book revolution, though, the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.
How attached are Americans to old-fashioned books? Just look at the results of a Pew Research Center survey released last month. The report showed that the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the past year, from 16% to 23%. But it also revealed that fully 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one printed book during the preceding 12 months. Only 30% reported reading even a single e-book in the past year.
What’s more, the Association of American Publishers reported that the annual growth rate for e-book sales fell abruptly during 2012, to about 34%. That’s still a healthy clip, but it is a sharp decline from the triple-digit growth rates of the preceding four years.
I don’t want to say I told you so but I had a strong feeling e-books and e-readers would hit their respective ceilings. I don’t own either item, preferring to do my reading from a print book. That doesn’t make me a more passionate reader than the next. I know people who love to read just as much as me who find great value in their Kindle for example. But I’ve learned it usually is out of a matter of convenience, say, for traveling or an extended stay some place where trucking a load of books is impractical.
The reason, I believe, is simple. Books are like children, friends or even lovers. You can’t replace them. Sure phone conversations, letters or Skypeing may provide a convenient substitute in their absence but it is nothing compared to holding your little one or embracing your darling in the flesh.
Keep those books. Add to that library. Books aren’t going anywhere. And remember whoever dies with the most books, wins!