August 31, 2023
It may seem as though the digital world has taken over, but in the world of publishing, printed books still reign supreme, even with Gen Z readers. It turns out that most readers prefer print books over e-books by a wide margin, and that includes readers who grew up in a digital age.
Generation Z is the name given to people born between 1997 and 2012. They are also known as zoomers, iGen, centennials, or post-millennials.
Although they grew up with digital media, they don’t use it in the open, personal way that previous generations did. They prefer private interactions and in-person communications to digital meetings.
Roberta Katz is a researcher who studied this generation in-depth to write her book, Gen Z, Explained: The Art of Living in a Digital Age.
In an interview, she summed up the typical member of this group: “A typical Gen Zer is a self-driver who deeply cares about others, strives for a diverse community, is highly collaborative and social, values flexibility, relevance, authenticity and non-hierarchical leadership, and while dismayed about inherited issues like climate change, has a pragmatic attitude about the work to be done to address those issues.”
So why would this group prefer print books to e-books? Here’s what we learned.
Although seen as obsessed with their cell phones and digital communications, most Gen Zers love to read books—and they say in surveys that they prefer printed books over e-books.
In the U.K., book buyers between the ages of 13 and 24 accounted for 80% of print book sales and only 14% of e-book sales. In the U.S., sales of print books hit their highest levels in 2021 and 2022, and Gen Z readers were largely responsible.
Gen Z readers prefer print books for the same reasons most of us do. They enjoy the feeling of turning the pages of book, and they appreciate the fact that a book doesn’t need to be plugged in to work. Gen Z is fond of travel, and books travel easily.
Gen Z readers have an additional reason for enjoying what they call “real books.” They spend so much time using digital media that they welcome taking a break from the eye strain and other discomforts of constantly staring at a blue screen. Gen Z readers see books as a restful, healthy “digital detox.”
Gen Z shoppers use their morals to guide their buying decisions. Above all else, members of this generation value authenticity. Marketers who try to sell products to them understand that messages about real people, real experiences, and genuine understanding. They are slow to trust corporations, politicians, or other sources of authority. Despite their frequent use of social media, they understand that what they see on social media is largely inauthentic.
Given this, it makes sense that Gen Z readers would prefer a print book over other forms of reading. Books represent old-fashioned values in the best way. They are solid, authentic, and not dependent on a digital screen. Reading a book is a solitary, authentic experience that allows the reader to turn off the screens and get lost in a genuine experience.
For Gen Z readers, the environment and humanity’s effects on it have become a top priority.
The debate over whether print books or e-readers are more environmentally damaging is ongoing, and we’re not going to settle it here. What we can say is that for Gen Z readers, print books come out on top for several reasons.
Print books last longer than e-readers. Once a book is in print, it can last for a hundred years or longer. Consider that some historical societies and research libraries hold documents that were printed hundreds of years ago. Most e-readers and other digital devices, on the other hand, end up being discarded when they stop working or when the owner decides they want to upgrade their devices.
Books are recyclable. A book can be shared with others, bought second-hand, or bought from companies that use recycled paper. An e-reader, on the other hand, creates electronic waste every time it’s thrown away.
Libraries are another factor that people often overlook when comparing print to digital books. One library copy of a book may be read by dozens of people—and even more if it’s a bestseller. That library copy keeps hundreds of books out of landfills.
Gen Z readers prefer print books because they know that digital reading is incomplete. These readers want to be mentally engaged with what they’re reading, and print books do a better job of that.
In a study conducted by American University, 92% of the people surveyed said they concentrated better when reading printed words over e-books. There are several reasons for this. First, e-books encourage skimming or skipping content in the same way that reading online blogs does. Reading an e-book becomes like reading an article online. We don’t slow down and focus the same way we do when reading a printed magazine article or book.
Second, reading printed materials helps us retain information better. When we read e-books, we don’t really “get lost” in the experience of reading. We’re still open to distractions, and those distractions keep us from being fully absorbed. That’s especially true if you use an e-book reader that also holds your email, messages, and games. When you read a printed book, there are no digital or other distractions. That absorption leads to better understanding of the material and better recall of it later.
Generation Z has embraced thrifty habits like shopping for secondhand clothing and books. They enjoy thrifting because it combines affordability, creativity, and sustainability, which are all extremely important to this group.
The economic recession and an awareness of the environmental dangers of so-called “fast fashion” have prompted this generation to look for more responsible alternatives when they shop. As a result, thrift stores have reported a huge rise in sales from this demographic.
There has been a rise of 100% in online searches for vintage fashion or slow fashion. According to a report in Medium, 46% of Generation Z shoppers chose to shop second-hand, compared to 37% of millennials and fewer than 20% of Generation X.
The main things they buy are clothing, books, and housewares. Reports from retail thrift stores show that the top-selling item is clothing, and books are second. Gen Z buyers prefer used print books for the same reasons they prefer second-hand clothing. They enjoy the “hunt” of thrifting, and they view buying these items as a sustainable, responsible choice.
Many Gen Z members believe in strong communities. Because of their beliefs about authenticity and social change, they want to support small businesses like bookstores and thrift stores. They also visit and support their local libraries.
Gen Z shoppers are careful with their money. Researchers have found that millennials—who also prefer print books—and Gen Z are on track to be financially poorer than previous generations. As a result, they have adopted careful spending habits and place great importance on getting value for their money.
According to an article by Jocelyn Pontes at the Whitefox blog, it’s clear why both these groups prefer print books: “Saddled with the combined disadvantages of higher tuition fees, student debt and housing, and coupled with stagnant wages relative to inflation, younger generations’ willingness to spend money on products of every kind, including books, is filtered through their more discerning perception of value. Placed in the context of why millennials and Gen Z tend to perceive more value in print, it is understandable why print remains more popular.”
Gen Z readers are not the only people who prefer print books. Most readers love the feel, heft, and smell of books, and the way they create an absorbing experience that digital books can’t match. As a professional printing company, we’re happy to be part of an industry that brings joy to people. When you’re ready to see your own book in print, talk to Publishing Xpress.
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