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Print Is Not Dead, Says Science

Despite a rise in e-reading, and years of print doomsday predictions, a Pew study finds that people still prefer print books.

[Photo: freddie marriage via Unsplash]

After weathering predictions of its demise for almost a decade, the print book is alive and well: According to a Pew Research Center survey, print is still the most popular way to read books. Yes, people increasingly read on smartphones and tablets. But Americans are still twice as likely to pick up a print book as they are to read an e-book.

In the years between 2008 and 2010, when a variety of e-readers were hitting the market and e-books sales were soaring, many compared the book publishing industry to the music industry—and expected the print book to follow the CD into obscurity. But since the Pew Research Center started its survey of Americans' book reading habits in 2011, print books have shown remarkable resilience. Roughly two-thirds (65%) of Americans have read a print book in the last year, the same percentage as in 2012 and only slightly down from the 71% who read a print book in 2011.

[Photo: Drew Coffman via Unsplash]

By contrast, 28% of Americans have read an e-book and only 14% have listened to an audio book in the last year. E-book readership has remained the same for the past two years (though from 2011 to 2014 it jumped from 17% to 28%). Those who are reading e-books are doing so mainly on smartphones (13%) or tablets (15%), as opposed to dedicated e-readers (8%). While tablet use for reading has increased nearly fourfold since 2011 and smartphone use more than doubled, the number of people using e-readers has barely changed.

The report doesn't draw any conclusions about why print still dominates over the many digital options, and it may be too early to say whether it will last. (Though analysts' predictions that e-books would overtake print by 2015 obviously didn't happen.) What's clear is that the printed book still has major cultural and aesthetic significance. For many people, it's a design object that won't ever be replaced.

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