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Is Print Dead?

A secret dream of mine has always been to work at Barnes and Noble. The walls and walls of literature would ensure my love for the environment, and that’s excluding the film collections section. But recently, a thought came to me: “Do people still read books?” I learned that in 2019, about 72% of US Adults said they’ve read a book in the last 12 months in any form. But in the year 2021, People consume books in more ways than physical. The 2000’s rise of ebooks and the success of audiobook services like Amazon’s Audible have caught more Americans’ reading attention. Audiobooks have reportedly been even more successful due to quarantine. Is the print literature industry dead? By 2035, will a library be stocked with Nook ebooks rather than shelves of stacks of paper? It’s hard to say, but it seems that for the most part, print is still here to stay.

Interest in digital books has increased for several reasons. For one, it is now easier than ever to self-publish a book. Self-publishing can take away from the stress of going through printing production with a publishing company. The biggest platform for self-publishing writers is Amazon, and they don’t publish their sales data. Because of this, it’s difficult to show the true success of self-publishing on digital, but it substantially increases your reach. Publishing on digital platforms will reach a wider audience also due to pricing. A standard paperback book can run you about $13.95-17.95, while digital books can be purchased between $3-$5. This is very enticing to the consumer, despite the fact that you’d have to buy a $50+ ebook to read it. Audiobooks are also on the rise, typically using a subscription-based service. Many Americans will also say that “they don’t have time to read books” and will instead listen to books on a commute or taking a walk. So with the technology available, many people have found new ways to read. But is it the future?

When it comes to general preference 2019 PEW study found that Americans generally prefer physical books over digital, despite the growth of the audiobook/e-reader industry. This applies even more on a global scale, where the cost of e-books is much more expensive. A library is much more dependable when it comes to finding books. There tends to be a library in any town, and lots of books there for you to access. Libraries are found on every school campus, and are filled with tons of physical books. This continues the natural preference of physical books, due to you growing up with it. In the era we’re currently living in, it seems more natural and easier to find books physically.

A big factor when it comes to deciding to go digital vs physical is the environmental cost. After much research, experts have determined several things. For one, e-reader production produces about 65 pounds of carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, a print book produces about 16.5 pounds. Both e-readers and physical books require many natural resources for production. Trees for books and minerals like copper for e-readers. A study found that a person would need to read 40 to 50 books in order to equal the fossil fuel use, water use, and mineral consumption of one e-reader. Obviously we’re not downplaying the importance of trees, it just goes to show that the debate between physical and e-reader isn’t clear cut. It seems that if you’re a very heavy reader, then digital is the way to go. If you’re a pretty average reader, physical editions couldn’t hurt.

The debate between physical and digital never really brought the idea of used books into the equation. If the book you’re looking for is not a brand new book, or even if it is, there’s still a good chance that your local library has a copy or one of your friends does. Buying anything new takes a toll on the environment, so the best decision for both you and the environment is to choose recycled books. Also, if buying, it may be better to purchase online than in a store. According to

Buy books online. Large brick-and-mortar bookstores tend to be very inefficient because they stock more books than they sell, which means they end up shipping back a significant chunk of books to their publishers. As a result, books purchased in bookstores generally have a much bigger carbon footprint than their online counterparts (That said, smaller, local stores have big-box stores beat and they’re better for local economies). The death of print leans heavily on the concept of saving the planet. If you really want to save the planet, it’s best to not buy new, and instead to find ways to buy used or borrow.

To answer the question: Is print dead? No, and it does not seem likely that it will go away soon. With the average american not being the biggest bibliophile, it seems that using a physical book is a better option. So for now, my dreams of working at a bookstore can still exist, and exist in an environmentally healthier and literature filled world.

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