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.

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

One thought on “The Rebirth Of Reading The Physical Book

  1. Hello from New Hampshire , across the deep blue sea ! Just had to send you a note upon reading this article, which I happened across by circumstance, as I too am “powered by WordPress”. You are a professional writer with an incredibly refined and pleasing-to-the-eye blog; I am just an old (69) retired American Vietnam Vet with PTSD who has jotted down thoughts for decades now as a form of cerebral escape on difficult days and nights. I’m still pretty much a dinosaur in the digital age but the small website I began in April of 2017 is serving as a learning experience via the old trial-and-error method of self-teaching. I only have nine entries so far, but have many more writings in my personal folders I hope to add to it in the years I have left.

    The reason I’m writing is because my very first post – on April 9, 2017, is entitled “Words You Can Touch”, and it is about, you guessed it, the allure of “physical books”! That is also now the name of my website; changed it because that first entry has remained my Main Page and I have had a “wordsyoucantouch@gmail.com” e-mail account for several years as well.

    Your article captured all of the feelings that only a physical book can provide on a cold, snowy New England night. You wrote, “We can touch the words.” !! That brought a big smile to my face, especially in view of the fact that my “Words You Can Touch” post was entered just five months earlier.

    But there’s one more amazing similarity: your photo of your books and mine of my books. Both have two vertical books on the left side, with the remaining books on the right side being in the horizontal position. Alas, I have but four books there, to your superior six, and I did not have the forethought or the imagination you displayed by suitably topping the stack off with a pair of eyeglasses, which is a great touch both in that photo, as well as the one below it.

    If you get a moment, you may want to give a quick glance to my April, 2017, original post with the so-appropriate title. It’s very short and pales compared to yours, of course. But it makes a similar observation.

    The post link is: https://wordsyoucantouch.com/2017/04/09/first-blog-post/

    And the books photo link (if you don’t have time to check out the previous one) is: https://knightnightnet.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/dscn01031-e1519373191796.jpg?w=676 . The similarity of the photos in combination with the phrasing of books providing “words you can touch”, will boggle your creative mind.
    It certainly did mine!

    (I assure you the links are safe, but you can simply Google the website name – wordsyoucantouch.com – if you prefer.)

    At my age, I don’t get excited much any more – but reading your wonderful article on the comforting “feel” of physical books and their wonderful covers & bindings, and then seeing the so-similar photo as well, got me excited – think I even smiled from here to there. 🙂

    Thank you for writing that, and for reading this. G’day to you.

    Sincerely,

    Wayne Michael DeHart

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