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Print Has Prevailed: The Staying Power of Physical Books

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Print Books Have Prevailed

The Briefing

  • Survey data from 10 different countries shows that a majority of people still prefer print books over e-books.
  • 42.5% of respondents purchased at least one print book in 2020—that’s significantly more than the 15.5% who’d bought at least one e-book.
  • Out of the 10 countries surveyed, Germany has the most print book lovers. 58% of German respondents bought a print book in 2020.

The Staying Power of Print Books

E-books are certainly not a new phenomenon. In fact, they’ve been around longer than the internet.

Yet, while the emergence of e-books dates back to the early 1970s, they didn’t hit the mainstream until the 2000s, when big companies began launching their own e-book readers, and digital libraries started to become more accessible to the public.

Around this time, sales for e-books started to soar, and by 2013, e-book sales made up 20% of all books sales in America. Many wondered if this was the end for print books.

But fast forward to 2021, and e-books haven’t made print books obsolete. At least, not yet.

E-book versus Print Book Purchases

A recent poll found that people still favor print books over e-books, at least when it comes to their purchasing behavior.

Of the 10 countries included in the survey, an estimated 42% of people had purchased at least one print book in 2020, while only 15.5% had bought an e-book that same year.

Here’s a look at all 10 countries, and the estimated share of their population who bought physical versus e-books in 2020:

CountryPhysical BooksE-books
🇨🇳 China32.0%24.4%
🇺🇸 United States44.5%22.7%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom48.7%20.0%
🇯🇵 Japan40.1%17.3%
🇰🇷 South Korea34.6%16.8%
🇦🇺 Australia41.2%15.9%
🇪🇸 Spain49.3%14.3%
🇩🇪 Germany58.0%10.4%
🇫🇷 France52.1%7.5%
🇮🇳 India24.5%5.6%
Average42.5%15.5%

China had the highest portion of e-book lovers—an estimated 24.4% of its population purchased an e-book in 2020, which is more than 8 percentage points higher than the average across the whole list.

On the other end of the spectrum, e-books are least popular in India, where an estimated 5.6% of the country’s population purchased an e-book in 2020. Keep in mind, the country has a lower percentage of book purchasers in general.

Why Print Has Prevailed

Why are print books still more popular than e-books? There are many theories. One study suggests that readers retain information better from a print book versus an e-book, while other consumer surveys found that e-books haven’t yet managed to fully simulate the tactile experience of a print book.

However, while e-books might not eradicate print books entirely, the market for digital books is expected to grow in the near future. By 2025, global revenue from e-books could reach $18.4 billion, with 1.2 billion users across the globe.

Where does this data come from?

Source: Statista

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