E-readers were supposed to kill printed books. Instead, they’re booming

Cost of Living8:55The return of the bookstore

When e-readers like the Amazon Kindle burst onto the scene, showing up next to menorahs and under Christmas trees in the early 2000s, they were predicted to bring about the death of the print book — and maybe the independent bookstore too.

But publishing sales data and on the ground observations from booksellers indicate that neither prediction has come true — in fact, sales of print books appear to be enjoying a bit of a lift driven by strong performance in genre fiction and interest from younger readers.

Print book sales are up 10‒14 per cent over three years in most major English-speaking markets, says Duncan Stewart, a consumer forecasting analyst for Deloitte who lives in Toronto and specializes in media and technology. He says those are quite nice numbers “for an industry that many people thought was dying.”

When they first gained popularity, industry watchers predicted e-books would soon be the preferred medium for younger readers who were growing up online, he told The Cost of Living, while print books would remain the go-to for their grandparents.

A bald man smiles while sitting in a brown leather chair holding a hardcover book. Behind him is a wall of full bookcases and a fireplace.
Duncan Stewart, a consumer forecasting analyst for Deloitte who specializes in media and technology, says e-readers have not been embraced by younger generations as first predicted. (Submitted by Duncan Stewart)

“It was the exact opposite story,” said Stewart. “Interestingly, Kindles and similar e-readers were more popular with the older generations we surveyed, whereas younger people were as interested in print, or more, than their older fellow readers.” 

Stewart says that’s because, in addition to e-readers being easy on the eyeballs, older book lovers read more per week, appreciate the portability of having so much to read on a small device and already have full bookshelves at home.

“Meanwhile younger people have empty bookshelves, and love filling them up with their latest reads,” he said.

Younger readers embrace new romance

Stewart says interest from young readers is driving what he describes as “astonishing” growth in fiction sales.

Canadian publishing sales figures are not publicly available, but Stewart says overall sales in the U.S. are up 12 per cent since 2019, while fiction is up 45 per cent.

“Fiction is growing four times faster than the overall book market, and young adult fiction is growing five times faster.”

Part of that is the popularity of new subgenres of romance that tackle social issues head on with themes such as mental illness and domestic violence, he said.

“The Gen Zs, the millennials: they’re powerfully driven by the diversity and the social aspects of these romances. They are buying them not merely because there is a nice love story, but because it reflects the complicated world, including things like environmentalism and so forth that are such important issues to the 18- to 35-year-olds of today.”

Sisters Shannon and Nicola McNaughton are seeing that play out in the bookstore they opened in Calgary in May. Slow Burn…

Read More: E-readers were supposed to kill printed books. Instead, they’re booming

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