Tech Desk

From the Tech Desk

Survey Shows that Millennials Would Rather Read Print Books

The term "millennial" is often used in derogatory fashion, to describe a generation of tech-obsessed young people who aren't nearly as hardworking or innovative as the generations that came before them. More relevant to this discussion, though (and less dismissive and judgmental), is the fact that millennials are the group of consumers who are driving most of the shifts to new technologies within the entertainment industry. For instance, millennials won't buy CDs because they can just stream whatever music they want to listen to on Spotify; they see no need to go out and rent or buy a DVD when they can pull up countless movies and TV shows on Netflix. They're also the consumer group that has really pushed news and cultural coverage onto the internet and away from magazines and newspapers. Logically, then, millennials must also be the group driving eBook sales, right?

Wrong, at least according to a new research study. According to an article published by Digital Book World this month, content solutions provider Publishing Technology recently conducted a survey designed to assess millennial reading habits. The survey found that readers in the United States who are between the ages of 18 and 34 (the working definition of the "millennial generation" for purposes of this study) would actually prefer to read a physical print copy of a book, as opposed to a digital copy. It's not a close contest, either: on the contrary, the Publishing Technology survey indicates that millennial readers are almost twice as likely to pick up a print book than they are to delve into an eBook. It's a surprising finding that goes against pretty much every other trend going on in entertainment technology right now.

Reading preferences aren't the only indication that publishing might be a bit more technology-proof than we initially thought. The Publishing Technology survey also found that, for book discovery, many younger readers still depend on more traditional modes for hearing about new titles. Of the 1,000 millennial readers surveyed, only 32% said that their primary route to finding good book recommendations involved online browsing. 45% still choose what they read based on good old-fashioned word of mouth, while 25% are making their discoveries by browsing the shelves at physical bookstores and libraries.

The operative question here is this: why are millennials, a group that is normally incredibly internet and technology-oriented, not embracing the eBook format in the same way that they have embraced digital music, media streaming, and online content? One possible answer is that eBooks simply don't offer an attractive enough product. There's an experience to reading a print book that has not been replicated in the digital format. From admiring the details of the cover art, to reading the description in the book flap, all the way to manually turning pages as the story unfolds, there's a certain kind of magic to reading a physical book that is lost in the translation to eBook.

However, the attractive nature of a physical product is only one of the many factors that could be at play here. In last month's "From the Tech Desk" column, we discussed how there is still no ideal channel for book recommendations in the digital marketplace—at least not anything that can rival a knowledgeable bookseller or librarian. One of the reasons that music has been able to make such an effective shift into the digital world is that listeners have plenty of opportunities to discover new artists, albums, and songs. From the radio, to television and film soundtracks, all the to popular online magazines like Pitchfork, the options for music discovery are nearly unlimited nowadays. Finding new books that you will like—especially outside of the New York Times bestseller list—is still easiest in a physical bookstore or a library.

Whatever the reason, Publishing Technology's survey proves that young readers aren’t ready to let go of print—at least not yet. And that in turn means that independent publishers and authors shouldn't be ready to forget about print just yet, either. If you want to reach new readers and maximize the growth of your audience, you have to understand that there is still a huge value in getting your books on the shelves at physical bookstores—and we mean both chain stores and independent shops. Print books may not be the only game in town anymore, but that doesn't mean they're dead. On the contrary, this recent Publishing Technology survey proves that print is still very much alive, and no indie publisher or author can afford to ignore that fact.

Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at