Voxburner has a little teaser for some market research in which they claim that 62% of 16-24-year-olds prefer paper books to e-books.
Their study sounds a little questionable on a number of grounds, but let’s take this as given and explore some further breakdowns.
Some people buy one book a year. Some buy 10. Some 20. Some 50. Some 100.
People who buy one book a year(ish) are probably the most numerous demographic, and they are the ones for whom physical books make the most sense. A dedicated e-reader doesn’t make sense if you don’t read a lot. Smartphones are non-ideal reading platforms. Tablets are pretty good (though 10″ tablets are a bit heavy), but not a ton of people own tablets. Further, the trophy aspect of a physical book is a positive if you’re accumulating only a small number of books. Some well-worn books on your wall is perhaps a nice homey touch. And the convenience of e-books aren’t a huge deal if you’re talking about going to a bookstore, or waiting for Amazon to ship, just once or twice a year.
I read about 50 books a year. This is a whole different can of worms. My thousands of physical books (before I went exclusively digital) were a giant inconvenience. I didn’t have enough wallspace to display them all, and moving them was an enormous pain in the ass. A dedicated e-reader is not a big expenditure compared to the about $500 a year I spend on books (though I currently use my Nexus 7 as my reader). And since I like to have a book that I’m reading all the time, it used to be a noticeable inconvenience to keep myself “in books.” When I finished one, I’d have to schedule time to go down to the store and get another. Now I just tap a button and get another book immediately after I finish my first.
And these data suggest that people who read 5 or fewer books per year are roughly half the population. Only 30% of the population are in the 10+ books per year category… yet the mean number of books read per year is 17. That suggests that the market is defined by the voracious readers: the top 5-30% of the market account for more than half of the sales.
So if “most” people prefer physical books, but those “most” people are overwhelmingly low-engagement readers, it’s not necessarily very important to the future of the book. The voracious readers will define what is and is not economical.