The Rebirth Of Reading The Physical Book

By Jessamy Baldwin

If someone says they ‘don’t read’, I, like them, am lost for words.

Reading for me, and for many of you reading this article I’m sure, is one of the purest forms of escapism out there. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, biography or newspapers, there is something special about bringing words to life with your imagination. And even more so when those words come from a physical entity – such as a book.

When my husband and I moved my entire life’s contents to the UK he said: “Do you really need all of these books?” Um, YES.

I packed up six rather large boxes of books last year – with no regrets. My friends constantly ask me: “Why don’t you just download your books?”

I know taking a Kindle or reading via my Samsung would be so much more practical when travelling. But it’s just not the same. When I’m on holiday, I’ll often leave books in cafes, on sofas or on sunbeds with a little note for the next reader. Maybe I like the mystery of it all? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that I love the feel of a book in my hand – especially an old one.

I love reading inscriptions dated from years ago and little notes or dedications that people have left along the way. It’s also interesting to see where people have folded corners, like literary road markings urging you to stop and pause. I love to turn my head sideways and read the spines of my book collection, as I’m reminded of where I was, who I was with and how I was feeling when I read them.

As a child, my mum would take me to the Guilles Alles Library every Saturday morning, where I’d spend hours choosing my books for the week. I’d get lost in those stories – before bed, on long car journeys, on boats, under the trees, on the beach. And I’m not the only one.

Reading is something many of us love to do. What’s more, many of the world’s most successful figures credit their accomplishments to avid reading. A young Elon Musk read for 10 hours each day before growing up to become Tesla CEO. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates reads a new book every week and property magnate Warren Buffett spends five or six hours a day reading different newspapers.

But in a world where TV, smartphones, tablets and e-books provide information and stories to us at the touch of a button or swipe of a finger, are physical books still that popular and do they still have a place in today’s technology driven world?

Why should publishers continue to put out thick, heavy books instead of pushing for Kindle readership which seems to make so much more sense? It’s a fair question. We’re travelling more than ever and we want content faster and on the go.

Well – there’s no doubt that as we read the printed word, our brain focuses on the physical page before us. We can touch the words. Hold them to our chest.  It feels more real. We’re not distracted by messages popping up on the screen or worried about water damage ruining the experience.

But online text has its positives too. It’s downloadable anytime, anywhere and you can access more books than you’ll ever fit in a suitcase. It’s like having a library in your pocket. However, not all readers are tech savvy, many devices are limited by battery life and there’s the possibility of software failure, data deletion and password loss.

You might be surprised to know that the popularity of the physical book remains strong and is undergoing a rebirth of sorts.

New figures from Nielsen reveal that ebook sales are in fact falling for the second year in a row (4% decline between 2015-16), while sales of paper books are growing. The research also revealed a 4% rise in bricks and mortar book-shop purchases across the UK in 2016.

In 2015, the Publishers Association found that digital content sales had fallen from £563m in 2014 to £554m, while physical book sales had increased from £2.74bn to £2.76bn.

Across the pond, the Pew Research Center reported that 65% of Americans still prefer to consume written content in the traditional way, more than double the share of those who preferred digital products: the ebook (28%) and the audiobook (14%).

The increase in print sales is said to have been largely influenced by younger generations preferring physical books to e-readers. There’s also been a surge in the popularity of adult colouring books. Who would have thought!?

With more than 360 million books sold in the UK in 2016 – a 2% jump from the previous year – it’s clear that the story you can hold in your hand is here to stay.


This article appeared in The Guernsey Press on 23rd September 2017

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