Are Print Books Still a Thing?

People still want to read printed books.

Ben White on Unsplash

“When the ebook arrived 10 years ago, some pundits suggested format did not matter. But they were wrong. A beautiful hardback is a joy, something to cherish, shelve and pass on, and readers are prepared to pay for that just as some people still prefer the cinema over television.”
—Philip Jones, The Guardian Book Clinic, Feb 2018

Yes, print books are still valuable. According to Publishers Weekly, reports from NPD BookScan show print book sales increased by 1.3 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. That’s 695 million real books consumed by readers. PW also reported the biggest increase was from hardcovers, with trade paperback sales pretty much flat versus 2017, with a slight .5 percent decline.

Even a little bit brighter picture were figures from The Association of American Publishers (AAP), with January-November 2018 showing a 6.5 percent increase in hardback sales and a 2 percent increase in trade paperbacks.

Meanwhile the AAP had eBook sales declining by 2.8 percent during the same period.

It seems apparent that there’s no truth to once-popular predictions that we’d all choose eBooks over print books, with print-on-paper fading to only a memory.

Especially if you’re marketing with a book

An author I’m working with calls it the “thud factor.” He’ll use the book we’re writing to market his services. When he hands over an attractive, bound copy to someone, they’ll literally feel the value of what he’s providing.

He explains that seeing that printed book—in particular a hard-cover book—shows up in a tangible way. The thud of a 200-page printed book as it hits the table reflects effort, credibility, and a generous “helping you is my priority” message.

It’s a much different emotional reaction than if he simply said, “Go download my free eBook.”

Consider an audio version too

In reviewing these book sales stats, it’s also interesting that downloads of audio books reported the fastest growth of any book medium, jumping 37.1 percent according to AAP figures. Even libraries offer audio books on loan via apps like Overdrive’s Libby.

To produce your audio book, professional voice talent is the best option. But if you’d rather do it yourself, the proliferation of podcasting has made affordable recording available to everyone. One co-working space near me offers a professional recording studio for $35 an hour. Public or university libraries might be another place to look for cost-effective recording facilities.

Just stay away from physical audio recordings. That’s not how people want to listen, as evidenced by the equally-steep 30 percent decline in physical audio book sales reported by PW for 2018. Smartphones, iPods, and other mobile devices are the choice for listening now.

More on print books from The Guardian

Additional comments from Mr. Jones’ Book Clinic sum things up well:

“The hardback is a mark of quality and a demonstration of intent on behalf of the publisher: it shows booksellers and reviewers that this is a book worth paying attention to. In fact some literary editors will still only review fiction (on first publication) if it’s published in hardback. Similarly, a hardback signifies to authors and agents that this is a book their publisher cares about, so much so that some agents (and authors) will insist upon it.”

I think the same can be said for indie authors too. (Remember that’s you—not the outdated and tarnished “self-published.”) Of course you want to offer ebook sales on Amazon, Smashwords, and other ebook sales sites. Digital channels like NetGalley  let you post advanced reading copies for preview distribution as you gather reviews. But you still can’t replace hardcopies for publicity and marketing both you and your book.

Print is also so much easier now. Print on-demand is available from the best publishing sources, making it cost-effective to print small quantities with great quality too. The days of big print runs to get “price breaks” and a garage full of boxed books are over. Any source asking you to buy lots of books up front sees you from a revenue-generating rather than a customer-service perspective.

Print books are still a thing. Include print as you plan and budget your book project.