It’s easy to get impatient with consumer-preference surveys that seem to insist on delineating everything by age, but here’s a well-documented trend that can change a griper’s attitude from crotchety to cheerful: millennials are sticking with traditional print.
This group—consisting of those born roughly between 1980 and 2000—shows a strong affinity for printed books and magazines despite competition from the digital and social media its members grew up with. And, millennials appear to like conventional print for most of the same reasons that the generations ahead of them did (and still do).
Many people in the millennial age bracket are students, and as this article from The Washington Post reports, these scholarly “digital natives” would rather peruse ink on paper than scan pixels on screens when reading for learning and pleasure. Most of the textbooks they buy are printed, and some students even are willing to pay for hard-copy versions of textbooks that they can get free in electronic form. They have found that the e-reading experience often isn’t as absorbing or “sticky” as the old-fashioned kind.
Data from credible sources say the preference is widespread. When Publishing Technology, a content solutions developer, polled 2,000 millennials in the U.S. and the U.K., it found “surprising” evidence that printed books (along with conventional magazines and newspapers) still loom large in the reading habits of 18- to 34-year olds.
The key insight was that although 79% of millennials in the U.S. and 64% in the U.K. had read a printed book in the last 12 months, fewer than half (47%) of the Americans and just 28% of the British had read at least one e-book on a tablet in the same period. (The numbers for reading on mobile phones were even lower.) Not only were millennials spending more time reading printed books than e-books, they also were spending more money to purchase them—mainly in brick-and-mortar bookstores.
This is consistent with the Pew Research Center Internet Project’s finding that while e-reading is on the rise among adults 18 and older, it has a long way to go before it can catch up with the popularity of print. But,p what accounts for the fact that print is aging so well among younger readers?
JWT (formerly J. Walter Thompson) delved into the question in a 2013 research report titled, Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot. Its premise is that as people spend more time with screens, they place increasing value on time spent away from them: “the time we spend with real people and real things.” Digital immersion creates emotional voids that millennials are at least as likely as any other age group to want to fill with the tangible comfort of “real” objects—like books.
Surveys conducted for the report made clear how strong their fondness for the physical is. More millennials (18-35) than GenXers (36-48), Boomers (49-68), and Silents (69+) agreed with the statements, “I like the smell and feel of books” and “I like the smell and feel of magazines.” Only the Silents, and only by two percentage points, agreed more than millennials that “It means more to me if someone gives me a physical book than an e-book.”
“Just about everything we thought we knew about Millennials is wrong,” declares a white paper from Publishing Technology on designing books for this key market segment. “What publishers need to remember when looking at how to reach Millennials is that they are interested in great content, ease of use, authenticity, personal connection to writers and brands, and a trusted brand/site/bookstore/person to help curate that content for them.”
What about printers? They don’t have a role to play in content, branding, or distribution. But, as manufacturers of books, they can and do contribute durability, visual appeal, and tactile satisfaction: qualities that millennials may value above all others in the books they buy. Printers have been keeping books timeless in this way for 500 years—why would age differences stop them now?