When I first came to publishing, at the start of this decade, ebooks were a hot topic for debate. The Amazon Kindle was released in 2007 and quickly captured interest, and by the time I published Burning Embers in 2012, ebooks were creating waves in publishing – and some panic for traditional print publishers. When my publisher informed me that Burning Embers would be published in both print and ebook formats, I admit I did not have high expectations for the ebook side; at the time I read only print books and I thought perhaps ebooks were something of a fad. But time has proved me wrong: these days, my fiction reaches a wide audience through ebooks as well as print.
That said, I have always preferred print books, and it seems I am not alone. A survey of over 10,700 consumers in Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States has found that ‘consumers trust, enjoy and gain a deeper understanding of information read in print, with signs of digital fatigue and concern for security and privacy evident’ (source).
In the UK, the research found that just under three quarters of people prefer printed books to ebooks. All age groups favoured print over digital, with just 12 per cent reading books on an ereader and 7 per cent on a tablet. The survey shows that 72 per cent of people find reading a printed book more pleasurable than reading an ebook.
Over the past couple of years, the media has been reporting on a decline in ebook sales and growth in print sales (see my 2017 article ‘A print book resurgence?’). Does this mean that ebooks will go the way of the dodo? It is extremely doubtful given the digital world in which we now live, and I would argue that this isn’t even desirable; after all, in my recent article ‘Making books accessible with ebook versions’ it’s evident that ebooks can unlock doors for readers who struggle with print books.
But just as people are returning to vinyl records, readers are rediscovering the intrinsic value in the printed word. Ultimately, reading an ebook just doesn’t give the same experience of reading a print book; there is a disconnect that, even if subtle, distances the reader a little. Just as vinyl lovers enjoy the physicality of placing the needle on the record, of looking at the sleeve, of hearing the slight crackle behind the music, so a reader enjoys the swish of paper as a page is turned, the scent of ink, the weightiness of the book in their hand.
It doesn’t surprise me that so many respondents to the survey preferred print books. Ten years ago, in the face of the ebook revolution, it may have been wishful thinking to believe that preference would hold firm. Today, though, I think we can all breathe easy, knowing that both print and ebook can peacefully co-exist.