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A Real Page Turner; Physical Books More Popular than Ebooks

Think about the last book that you bought? Was it a physical book or an ebook?

Given the prevalence of digital technology in our lives, you would be forgiven to think that ebooks are well on the march of taking over physical books. But research by Nielsen show the opposite; UK ebook sales declined by 4% in 2016, while physical book sales increased by 2%.

We have been tracking attitudes towards ebooks for the last year in our GroupM Ireland Quarterly Media Tracker and are witnessing a similar trend. The majority have Irish adults say they still prefer to read a physical book than an ebook and this figure has shown an increase, albeit marginal over the last four quarters. Even Millennials (18-34s) show a similar preference to physical books.

The reasons for the dominance of physical books over their digital counterparts are likely to be multifaceted.  Some commentators cite the minimal price difference between ebooks and physical books. Others have put the steady performance of physical books down to children’s fiction market. A 2013 UK study found that 62% of 16-24 year olds prefer physical books to ebooks, with the most popular reason being they like to hold the product.

The popularity of physical books over ebooks may also be down to screen fatigue – seeking a break from all the screens we look at across the day. Our GroupM Quarterly Media Tracker shows that the Irish adult uses their smartphone for 106 minutes on average per day and spend 376 minutes online per day. And even higher for 18-24 year olds at 142 minutes on their smartphone per day and 522 minutes online overall. That’s a lot of screen time and we haven’t even included time spent watching TV per day.

It’s no surprise then that we are seeing an industry growing in the area of switching off from digital devices, whether it’s digital detox holidays or apps like Flipd that limit the time you spend on your phone by creating a lock screen that removes distractions, but keeps you connected.

But rather than invest in new apps or an expensive retreat, you probably have a lot of these digital detox tools already in your house – sitting on your bookshelves. They contain no notifications, no sounds and no harsh blue light. Best of all, they never run out of battery. The simple book is the antidote to our increasing screen time and it’s no surprise their popularity has not only maintained, but increased.