The enduring power of print has once again been confirmed, with Brits ditching their digital books and reverting to hard copies because they love the feel and smell of paper and crave full bookshelves in their homes.
In research, commissioned by Oxfam, that will not be lost on those toiling away in the direct mail industry, a study of 2,000 adults revealed that despite being able to read stories on tablets, phones, Kindles and listen to audio books, more than two thirds still opt for a paperback or hardback book.
Nearly half (46%) of those questioned said they like to be able to physically turn the pages, while 42% prefer the feel of a book in their hands. A quarter said they love the smell of a book, 32% feel they get more immersed in the story of a physical book and 16% are reminded of libraries.
And in a nod to all those Zoom meetings from home, 35% admitted to preferring physical books as it meant they could add it to a bookcase and nearly 20% said owning books made them feel more intelligent.
By contrast, just 16% prefer to read an ebook, while less than 6% turn to audio stories.
It is all a far cry from the predictions that followed the 2007 launch of the Amazon Kindle, when it was forecast that millennials would embrace ebooks and abandon print book and that publishing would be forever changed.
Instead, ebook sales seem to have stabilised at around 20% of total book sales, with print sales making up the rest.
According to the Oxfam study, the average adult owns 49 paper or hardback books and reads for around three hours a week.
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, who is working with Oxfam, said: “People prefer to read physical books because they offer something more tangible and grounded.
“There’s something that can feel more ‘permanent’ about real books over digital formats. Reading offers us a form of escapism. It provides us with a break from our everyday lives, and often also, an opportunity to learn something new and expand our minds.”
Nearly half (45%) also admitted to reading more books than usual since the start of lockdown, while 84% of those heading off on a holiday this summer will take a book with them.
After the boom in reading, three quarters said they are considering donating books once they have read them, with another 72% often buying a used book themselves.
Others like reading used books because of the smell (18%) and texture (18%), while nearly half (45%) like to think about where second-hand books have come from.
Ian Falkingham, books lead for Oxfam, said: “Buying second-hand books can be beneficial for so many reasons; it’s far cheaper, better for the environment and holds a personal connection to whoever owned the item before.”
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