New Survey Shows Readers Overwhelmingly Prefer Physical Books

A new survey among 2,400 book readers of all ages in the United States, UK, France and Germany found that people still overwhelmingly prefer physical books for their look, their feel and even their smell

The study, commissioned by paper producer Stora Enso, showed 65% of respondents prefer physical books, versus 21% who prefer e-books and 14% audiobooks. The French showed the strongest preference for physical books of any nation. And most said they preferred to read or listen to fiction books for leisure and to get quality time alone.

“These results confirmed our expectations that the market for physical books is set to stay strong, which is good news for our printer and publishing customers,” said Stora Enso’s Jonathan Bakewell, Vice President, Head of Segment Office and Book Papers. But there were some surprising results from the youngest group (16-to-24 year olds) polled, where 70% said they preferred physical books over e-books.

This enthusiasm for books among Gen Zers, who are more likely to be the digital disrupters, seems partially fueled by the manga-book craze, driven by Netflix anime series, as well as a recent explosion in top-selling teen romance books. For older age groups, physical books have been outselling e-books in areas like human potential and mindfulness, particularly during the pandemic as people took pause to look inward.

digital detox

People have begun rediscovering reading, partly prompted by the pandemic, where many were tethered to their screens all day for work or school, then didn’t want to take them to the sofa when it was time to relax. A majority of respondents (63%) said they read more during Covid, including nearly 70% in the UK and US In the youth segment, 64% said they read more and, notably, 76% of young people in the US .and 73 % in the UK During the isolation, the physicality of a book felt more comfortable for some than a digital reader. Some even cited the smell of a physical book that could evoke pleasant memories.

Share of eyes and ears

But even as physical books commanded a larger share of hearts and minds, the study showed there is a time and place for all three book formats, with few respondents saying they stuck to just one. E-books and audio books are more convenient and lighter to carry and can be consumed from multiple devices. And while the book and the e-book are competing for a share of eyes, the audio book is complementary in that it is competing for ears – podcasts, radio, music and other audio media.

Books as carbon storage

Books and the paper they are printed on are circular, and renewable. 42% of readers said they like to keep books when they finish reading them, while 26% loan or donate them. A further 26% sell their books and the remaining 5% recycle or discard them. And while books do emit carbon during production and distribution, they are their own carbon storage units once they’re on our shelves. And it’s important to remember that e-books require energy to manufacture and run their reader devices and to maintain the massive server farms that supply their content.

Carbon neutrality was high on the agenda for most, with 61% of all respondents and 70% of youth saying they would pay more (on average 5.7% of the retail price) for carbon neutral books. A majority would also buy from an outlet that provided carbon neutral or carbon offset books.

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