As a kid I always dreamed of being a writer, even though the phrase “starving artist” that was on the lips of every well-meaning family member and friend that asked me about my future. I simply couldn’t keep my nose out of books—I knew they had a unique, addictive power and I wanted to be a part of it. Even as I finished my last year in college, I got concerned looks when I told people that I want use my English degree to pursue publishing and writing rather than teaching.
You can always switch to working with online media once print books become less popular, you know, with all these Millennials reading ebooks nowadays.
If I had a dollar for every time someone has tried to reassure me with this false claim, I would be able to save the so-called “dying” industry that I am pursuing. But these are the facts: 1) younger adults read just as often as older generations and 2) print books are actually preferred over other mediums by all generations (yes, Millennials and Gen Z included!).
Millennials Still Read Books
While the stereotypical image of young adults hunched over glowing screens and spending much of their time on Netflix may be valid in some ways, the misconception that this younger generation does not read books is simply not true. A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center shows that 84% of 18-29 year olds have read a book in any format in the past 12 months. This means that the good majority of the Millennial generation has read at least one book in the last year—they are certainly not giving up on reading. Not only that, but a when compared with the results of the Pew Research Center’s 2016 study, we see that there has been a 4% increase in this number. In the last two years, reading habits among 18-29 year olds have been stable and even increasing.
We see that Millennials are picking up books, but how do their numbers compare to other generations? The same 2018 study also collected data from other generations. The results show that 74% of 30-49 year olds responded that they have read a book in any format in the last 12 months—a percentage which is 10% less than 18-29 year olds. Likewise, only 71% of 50-64 year olds have read a book in any format in the last 12 months. Young adults are not neglecting their books, they are following in the footsteps of the generations that came before them.
Print Books Are Preferred
Even in this technology-saturated age, the success of the tried-and-true print book surpasses that of both ebooks and audiobooks. The Pew Research Center looked into what format of book that people prefer, and their study reveals that print books have been the more popular choice of adult readers at least since the research began in 2011. In fact, in the 2018 study, of the 67% of adults say they have read a print book in the past 12 months, which trumps the 26% who say they have read an ebook and the 18% who say they have listened to an audiobook. The popularity of print books remains steady even in the face of the increasing variety of ways to access books.
While Pew Research Center’s study only covered adults, Naomi Baron, an American University linguistics professor, conducted a study that shows that 92% of college students prefer paper books instead of ebooks, and even if the cost were the same, 80% would prefer the print book. And it’s not just college students who appreciate a physical copy: a study by Scholastic reports that 65% of kids ages 6-17 say they will always want to read in print, even though ebooks are available. Clearly there is something special about holding the paper and ink that draws readers of all generations towards print books even in the face of greater convenience and lower price which are the main perks of ebooks.
I know I’ve just offered up a lot of statistics, but the bottom line is that research supports that younger adults read just as often as older generations do, and even with technology pushing ebooks and audiobooks, readers more often prefer to have a physical copy of a book while they read.
Even when I was young I could recognize that books have a unique power, and I am clearly not alone. Despite the worries of my loved ones, I know that our work here at Prospect Park Books and the work of others in the publishing industry is not threatened by the rise of the technology-driven Millennials as some may fear. In fact, this young generation known for its continual change and innovation could drive the industry to great new places, and I look forward to being a part of it.